#1: Who is the best president for higher education?

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on October 24 th of this year, was our #1 most popular story of the year. Happy Holidays and thanks for tuning into our 2016 countdown!]

It’s been quite a dramatic election season, with the two main presidential candidates debating on a number of topics; however, due to the theatrical nature of this election, education has, unfortunately, taken a backseat.

That why eCampus News has put together an informal, quick-hitting resource on the two main presidential nominees’ positions on some of the most pressing higher education issues today. Be sure to check out Page 2 for the results of our reader poll.

[Editor’s note: Under the two images below, we included a link to the PDF version for downloading and easier reading. For coverage on each main candidate’s position on K-12 issues, click here.]

Donald Trump on Higher Education

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Hillary Clinton on Higher Education

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CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE PDF VERSION

(Next page: Results from our informal poll)

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#2: Gen Z is about to take over higher education—here’s what to expect

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on January 7th of this year, was our #2 most popular story of the year. The countdown continues tomorrow with #1, so be sure to check back!]

Educators take note: it’s time to make way for Generation Z (Gen Z).

In a recent study by Barnes & Noble College, 1,300 middle-school and high school students ages 13-18 from 49 different states shared their attitudes, preferences and expectations regarding their educational and learning experiences. The findings from the study are clear: Gen Z is significantly different than previous generations, and these students will bring both challenges and opportunities for the future of higher education.

Perhaps contrary to some perceptions, this next generation of students sees a higher education degree as extremely valuable, with 89 percent rating its value as “very high.” Unlike Millennials, who pursue personal fulfillment more widely than financial goals or job titles, Gen Z values college most as a means to secure a good job. It stands to reason then that their number one concern is whether or not they will be able to find that good job after graduation.

This generation seeks to “have it all” in their careers, with 42 percent describing their future careers as “suiting their specific interests.” Their career choices also are quite different than current college-aged students: they tend to envision careers in technology, such as computer science and video game development, whereas Millennials are more likely to seek careers in the fields of health/medical and education.

Gen Z is also very entrepreneurial – almost 13 percent already have their own business, and an additional 22 percent plan to own a business in the future. The Internet plays a major role in this aspirational shift, breaking down the walls of possibilities for young students to create and sustain their own businesses.

The study found that these teens have a sincere love of learning. They thrive when they are challenged and allowed to be engaged in their education – more than half of the students learn best by doing. Empowered by the Internet, they are remarkably independent and self-reliant, and are comfortable researching, discovering and self-educating through YouTube DIY videos and online learning platforms like Skillshare and Udemy. They are prepared to make their own decisions based on the information they find – a characteristic that is quite different from Millennials, who typically rely more on friends and family.

(Next page: Gen Z’s massive reliance on technology)

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#3: 3 blossoming fields of study with massive potential

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on May 9th of this year, was our #3 most popular story of the year. The countdown continues tomorrow with #2, so be sure to check back!]

As students become more concerned with leveraging their postsecondary education for entry into the job market, colleges and universities must look beyond traditional fields of study to ones that directly lead to future-ready careers.

Future-ready, or future-proof, careers refer to careers that not only have a significant number of current job openings, but whose openings are expected to increase in the future. These careers also offer competitive salaries, and are available in multiple markets (i.e. business, education, healthcare, etc.).

Using data from job-hunting site Glassdoor, CareerBuilder, Economic Modeling Specialists Intl., as well as recent research from the education sector, eCampus News lists three burgeoning fields of study that any campus would do well to incorporate into their curricula.

1.Data Science/Data Administration

Data Science is an interdisciplinary field about processes and systems to extract knowledge or insights from data in various forms, either structured or unstructured, which is a continuation of some of the data analysis fields such as statistics, data mining, and predictive analytics, similar to Knowledge Discovery in Databases (KDD).

Data administration, or data resource management, is an organizational function working in the areas of information systems and computer science that plans, organizes, describes and controls data resources.

According to Glassdoor, data scientists are on-demand currently, and will continue to be needed for years to come. Currently, the average base salary of a data scientist is $105,395, with the number of current job openings exceeding 3,400. A database administrator’s average base salary is currently $97, 258, with the number of job openings over 9,000.

Yet, according to the National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) “Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System Completions Survey and NSF/NCSES: Survey of Earned Doctorates,” while the number of undergrads in statistics—which encompasses data science—increased by more than 300 percent since the 1990s, the growth may not be enough to satisfy the high demand needed in the market.

The NCES report shows that bachelor’s degrees in statistics grew 17 percent from 2013 to 2014, marking 15 consecutive years the number of undergrads in statistics has risen. However, the American Statistical Association (ASA), which analyzed the NCES data, says that this number will need to increase drastically to satisfy the high demand for technology-based fields like data science and database management—which could spell trouble not only for businesses, but for colleges and universities anxious to effectively analyze massive amounts of big data.

Recently, MIT Sloan School of Management announced the launch of a new specialized Master of Business Analytics (M.B.An.) program designed to prepare students for careers in business analytics. And Stanford has been actively advocating for more data-related curricula throughout higher education.

The University of Colorado Boulder’s Department of Applied Mathematics also developed a new statistics minor that includes several new classes in data science, plus several existing courses were revamped to better serve those career fields looking for data scientists.

The business sector has also launched programs to try and attract student to data fields of study.

(Next page: IT management and network administration fields of study)

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IT #1: STEM crisis quickly becoming an IT problem

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on February 22nd of this year, was our #1 most popular story of the year. For the #2 from last week, click here.]

According to recent data, Gen Z demands that devices and software—and the support required to use them—be woven into their daily lives; yet, most of this digital native generation has no interest in having an IT career. So who, exactly, will provide the technology and support needed to satisfy the future generation?

It’s yet another cold water splash on the STEM fields that have been in crisis in the U.S. for years. However, unlike the somewhat vague notion of there being less engineers and mathematicians to better the collective intelligence and innovation of a nation, the fact that almost none of the future generation have any interest in information technology (think: computers, the internet, software systems, telecommunications, data analysis, electronic engineering) will have a direct, negative impact on not only individual consumers, but on entire ecosystems (like higher education) that are becoming increasingly dependent on IT.

For example, outside of daily consumer needs (e.g. seeking support whenever a phone application stops working), entire markets are rapidly becoming more dependent on IT, with the example of higher education and its reliance on everything from providing campus help desks to migrating critical systems to the cloud.

The panic increases when one considers where higher education is moving in the future. Already, leading institutions like Stanford are making national pleas for experts to be created in the burgeoning field of  data science (combining skills in computing science and applications, modeling, statistics, analytics, and math to discover insights in data) as colleges and universities become increasingly reliant on harnessing data to increase performance in everything from enrollment to graduation rates. And innovators in the higher ed arena are starting to build whole new offices devoted specifically to data science and IT management.

According to EDUCAUSE, colleges and universities this year will put heavy focus on mobile devices for learning, SaaS, administrative performance analytics, hybrid and online learning, apps for enterprise applications, and service desk tools…all technology-based innovations supported by campus IT. In next few years, these and other technologies will only advance in capability and expertise needed to support these capabilities.

(Next page: The sobering statistics; what’s being done to promote IT?)

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#4: 5 important revelations from first year online learners

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on January 5th of this year, was our #4 most popular story of the year. The countdown continues tomorrow with #3, so be sure to check back!]

Despite a record number of students taking online higher education courses, many of those entering for the first time often have incorrect preconceived notions of online learning’s extreme flexibility—and it’s this notion that may lead to high dropout rates.

This is one of the findings of a new research report that aims to explore the dearth in research about what actually happens to first year distance students once they have enrolled in higher education courses.

Using video diaries of 20 first-time, fully-online learning students from one specific university, data was collected by researchers—Mark Brown, director of the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL) at Dublin City University; Helen Hughes, doctor of Philosophy student at University of Bristol; Mike Keppell, professor and executive director of the Australian Digital Futures Institute (ADFI) at the University of Southern Queensland; Natasha Hard, project manager and Research Assistant with the ADFI; and Liz Smith, director of Academic Success: Distance Success Leader in the Office for Students at Charles Sturt University—on their “lived experiences.” Over 22 hours of video data was transcribed and thematically analyzed.

The researchers say the video diaries help reveal the “soft factors” that directly influence distance students’ study and motivation; specifically, family circumstances and part- or full-time employment.

According to multiple cited research reports, “distance learners are more likely to study under conditions that are far less common among first year campus-based undergraduates,” write the researchers. Also, “…an Australian University Survey of Student Engagement [AUSSE] found that, in Australia and New Zealand, more first year students withdraw from study than returning students.”

Based on previous research, one theory as to why more first-time distance learning students drop out is because services and interventions known to successfully support the engagement of distance learners are often applied in a seemingly ad-hoc manner, described by one researcher as a “goulash approach” to promoting distance learner retention.

In an effort to contribute to the enhancement of online learning support services and resources available for first-time online learners, researchers of the report aimed to develop a conceptual framework for identifying the most effective use of various intervention tools, supports and resources at early stages of the study lifecycle, as well as produce a set of overarching principles to help institutions enhance distance learner engagement and success.

And though the data was collected from only 20 representative students over one semester and 12 students for both semesters, the findings from the report may reveal critical insights:

1.False preconceived notions often lead to unrealistic study choices: According to the report, from the outset of the semester, students had relatively little concept of what it is actually like to study online. Because of this, students do not always make realistic study choices in light of their personal circumstances (family obligations and dependents, employment, financial issues and personal recreation). “Students commonly perceive that distance study will not only be flexibly scheduled around commitments, but also ‘condensable’ into the hours they have available,” note the researchers. As early as the orientation period, the perceived flexibility and self-paced nature of online learning creates a false sense of security, says the report, that seemed to invite some students to remain syllabus-bound, ignore non-essential tasks and—in the worst scenarios—to disengage and withdraw from courses.

(Next page: Online learners insights 2-5)

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#5: Shocking data reveals Millennials lacking skills across board

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on March 18th of this year, was our #5 most popular story of the year. The countdown continues tomorrow with #4, so be sure to check back!]

It’s a conversation a decade ago that was so widely circulated and discussed that even dedicated education stakeholders grew weary of it: U.S. students are performing below average in math and reading compared to their international peers—what do we do? 10 years of jumbled reform initiatives and touting Millennials as the most educated demographic in recent history later, national and international research groups say nothing has changed; and, in fact, it may be getting worse.

In 2013, the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) released the first-ever global data on how the U.S. population aged 16 to 65 compared to other countries in terms of skills in literacy and reading, numeracy, and problem-solving in technology-rich environments (PS-TRE). The PIAAC then broke down the data by specific age group, including Millennials, or those born after 1980 that were between the ages of 16-34 at the time of the assessment (2012).

Overall, revealed the data, despite having the highest levels of educational attainment of any previous American generation, Millennials, on average, demonstrate relatively weak skills in all skill sets researched compared to their international peers.

Also, the data revealed that while it is true, on average, that the more years of education one completes the more skills one acquires, far too many are graduating high school and completing postsecondary education without receiving the right skills needed to enter a competitive, global workforce that is becoming more and more technology-based.

“These findings hold true when looking at millennials overall, our best performing and most educated, those who are native born, and those from the highest socioeconomic background,” writes Irwin Kirsch, Ralph Tyler Chair in Large-Scale Assessment and Director of the Center for Global Assessments at Educational Testing Service (ETS). “Equally troubling is that these findings represent a decrease in literacy and numeracy skills for U.S. adults when compared with results from previous adult surveys.”

Kirsch also cited several studies from organizations that support the PIAAC’s findings, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), ACT, and the College Board.

But what are the hard numbers to support these claims; and is it just a matter of more education?

(Next page: Hard data on Millennials’ skills; implications for skills-based education)

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#6: Social media’s top 50 colleges and universities

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on May 10th of this year, was our #6 most popular story of the year. The countdown continues Monday with #5, so be sure to check back!]

Technology and data company Engagement Labs released its 2016 ranking of the top 50 U.S. colleges and universities on social media networks Facebook and Twitter.

As the higher education landscape becomes more competitive than ever, social media has become an increasingly important way for colleges and universities to gain an edge over one another. Social media is especially helpful for schools not only with regards to recruitment and retention, but also to communicate with current and prospective students in a timely and effective manner that matches their tastes.

“Some people might look at social media as, ‘what’s the cost of doing it?’,” said Bryan Segal, CEO of Engagement Labs. “These days, though, it’s ‘what’s the cost of not doing it?’ Social media helps colleges and universities on multiple fronts, including the acquisition of new students, staying in touch with alumni, and building communities. Colleges are all about community. Being able to use a channel like social media is important for where they were, are, and need to be with the demographics they’re trying to reach.”

“There’s not a huge barrier to entry, so it’s all about tactics,” he emphasized.

The colleges and universities examined included those categorized as Ivy League, for-profit, and those within the following NCAA conferences: the Big ten, the Big 12, the ACC, the Pac-12 and the SEC. Also, while the company measures content across numerous social media networks, they decided to focus on the two that they found to be the most impactful and active, which were Facebook and Twitter.

The rankings were assembled based on data compiled by the company’s own eValue Analytics scores. This system was created to offer ongoing third party, competitive benchmarking data analytics based on a worldwide scoring system to accomplish somethign similar to what Neilson does for Television. The eValue score is comprised largely of three sub-scores:

Engagement – The amount of content and participation between consumers and a brand. This includes how many posts, tweets and images an institution puts out, as well as how many likes or retweets they get.

Impact – How large a reach an institution’s social media presence encompasses.

Responsiveness – How a brand responds to, and interacts with, its consumer base. This includes how often they respond to followers’ posts, how long it takes for them to do so, and the quality of the response.

(Next page: The rankings of the top 50 institutions on social media) 

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#7: 10 must-haves to appease online students

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on February 1st of this year, was our #7 most popular story of the year. The countdown continues tomorrow with #6, so be sure to check back!]

Higher ed online students expect a lot from their programs; but with every student’s unique expectations and desires, how can institutions not only rise above the competition, but offer the best online learning options for their students?

Those are the questions a joint survey–conducted by Learning House and Aslanian Market Research of 1,500 individuals part of higher ed online learning programs nationwide–aimed to answer in its fourth annual survey.

Every year, these organizations conduct a survey of students at least 18 years old; have a minimum of a high school degree; and were recently enrolled, currently enrolled, or planning to enroll in the next 12 months in either a fully online undergraduate or graduate degree program or a fully online certificate or licensure program. (To access the 2012, 2013, and 2014 reports, click here.)

The report summarizes the trends in the online student experience, from recruitment to graduation, and aims to provide insights on how to attract and serve these students.

“The patterns and preferences of the sample of individual interviews are reflective of online students as a whole, and the data reflect a national template of the behavior and preferences of these students,” notes the report. “College and university leaders can use this information to attract and serve this growing population. Individual institutions should also consider regional data and their positioning in the local marketplace.”

10 must-have’s from 2016’s online learning students

According to the report, today’s online learning program:

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1.Must help with students’ careers: Roughly 75 percent of online students surveyed seek further education to change careers, get a job, earn a promotion or keep up to date with their skills. The third most appealing marketing message among the group sampled was “a high job placement rate.” Online learning must also be major- or program-driven, as 60 percent of respondents indicated that they selected their program of study first and then considered institutions. One-third responded that the critical factor in decision-making was “The program was the best match,” which was more important than price or reputation. “Colleges that want to excel in attracting prospective online students must prepare them for, and connect them to, the world of work,” highlights the report.

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2.Must offer choices for personalization: The report emphasizes throughout that online students are diverse in their preferences, so there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. “The preferences of online college students are often contradictory, so decision-makers need to consider and pursue a variety of strategies to reach the maximum amount of this population,” says the report. One example of contradictory attitudes can be seen in the survey’s question of: “How often would you be willing to log in at a specific time to join a required discussion or virtual lecture with your instructor and classmates?” 21 percent of students responded “never,” but 15 percent responded “more than five times per course.” When asked if they preferred paper or electronic textbooks, 43 percent preferred electronic, 33 percent preferred paper and 23 percent didn’t have a preference.

(Next page: Online learning must-have’s 3-6)

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#8: What does Betsy DeVos mean for higher ed?

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on November 29th of this year, was our #8 most popular story of the year. The countdown continues tomorrow with #7, so be sure to check back!]

School choice advocates likely let out a collective cheer when President-elect Donald Trump nominated conservative billionaire Betsy DeVos for U.S. Education Secretary, but the higher education community was left to wonder about the impact on its institutions.

The nomination was felt strongly at the K-12 level, where her advocacy for school vouchers pitted school choice advocates against those who feel vouchers funnel valuable tax dollars away from public schools and into parochial and unaccountable private schools. [Read the K-12 version: “Here’s what you need to know about Betsy Devos, likely Education Secretary.“]

But the impact DeVos might have on higher education has been less evident in the few days since her nomination, though this follows Trump’s lead, as he himself has been sparse on plans for higher education. [Read: “Who is the best president for higher education?“]

Overall, Trump has said he feels the federal government is too involved in education and policy.

His transition website says “a Trump Administration also will make post-secondary options more affordable and accessible through technology-enriched delivery models.”

(Next page: Lawmakers react to the nomination)

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IT #2: 5 ways your college website turns away students

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on May 24th of this year, was our #2 most popular IT story of the year. The countdown continues next Wednesday with #1, so be sure to check back!]

From evidence that digital tactics play a key part in enrollment, to entire conference panels dedicated to enhancing higher ed websites, it’s clear that college websites are a must-have for enticing prospective students. But what happens when a great website is all that matters?

That’s the question higher education web development company KDG (formerly The Kyle David Group) was interested in researching: “As digital presence begins to matter more and more to internet-raised generations, can a poorly designed college website push students to choose an inferior college with a better digital strategy?”

“Our research revealed five mistakes that colleges often make on their websites,” said Kyle David, CEO of KDG in a statement. “These mistakes may seem trivial, but they are the primary reasons many students often choose an inferior college that just happens to have a better website.”

The report is the result of a year of research and user testing, and examined prospective students’ experiences with dozens of college and university websites. Using one-on-one user tests, focus groups, and user-experience studies, KDG asked hundreds of prospective students to provide feedback on their experience with college websites based on the following criteria: usability, uniqueness, focus, and message retention—especially as compared with competitive schools.

“When we reviewed the data, we found that prospective students are no longer forgiving of sites that fail them in certain key areas,” explained David. “Traditional prospective students have grown up in a world that sees the usability, simplicity, and readability of Facebook and Buzzfeed to be the standard. Websites have to compete with that standard and do it successfully.”

As indicated by the report, college websites increasingly impact prospective students’ interest in a school and, therefore, enrollment rates. According to KDG, institutions that have failed to elevate their websites to meet students’ changing expectations experienced a 30-40 percent decrease in overall unique visitors during the past admissions cycle.

(Next page: The college website mistakes that turn away students)

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