#1: Experts say we’re approaching a third wave of higher-ed reform

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on July 13th of this year, was our #1 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2018 countdown!]

As the global economy changes and demands more highly-skilled workers, some experts are tracking what they call a third wave of postsecondary education reform focused on making sure graduates have career-long alignment between their education and the job market.

The new report from Jobs for the Future (JFF) and Pearson notes that a career path won’t have a single-job trajectory, but instead will require a lifetime of learning. Higher education will have to experience significant reform to create graduates equipped for such a workforce, the report’s authors claim.

“As the future of work is realized, what makes us human is what will make us employable; education systems are already evolving to develop and measure the skills that matter, but there is much more that can be done,” says Maria Flynn, JFF’s president and chief executive officer.

Higher education’s first wave of reform focused on access, according to the report–helping more people enroll in higher-ed programs. The second wave addressed academic success and getting more students to cross the finish line and earn certificates and degrees.

This latest higher-ed reform wave focuses on what the report’s authors call “demand-driven education,” where programs will zero in on ensuring graduates are job-ready and have access to rewarding careers over the course of their lifetimes. This third wave of higher-ed reform will create an education system that adapts to the needs of learners and employers, and it responds to signals from society to ensure that desired job qualifications and available training align.

Demand-driven education aims to keep pace with the emerging global economy, which is technology-infused and industry-driven, and it also strives to keep up with the demand for skills that economy will require of its workers.

Higher-ed reforms will have to:
1. Develop and measure the specific skills that will be most in demand, especially interpersonal skills and complex thinking
2. Use dynamic and work-based pedagogy to grow learners’ competencies, while also preparing educators to embrace new forms of teaching and learning
3. Respond to the needs of the labor markets to ensure continuous alignment
4. Create flexible and adaptive pathways to allow learners to rapidly convert learning to earning
5. Support changes that make the entire education landscape function better, enabling traditional and alternative providers to participate in creating the future of education alongside industry

The authors outline a number of suggestions for individuals, education systems, and industry, pulled from promising practices observed in the U.S. and the U.K., including:
• Competency-based education, which allows learners to show what they know as soon as they know it and move quickly to the next level
• Employer and industry-led models, which radically lower the opportunity costs of education by providing further training on the job
• The latest labor market intelligence tools and techniques, which provide educators with powerful insights into the changing skills marketplace
• Dynamic and work-based pedagogy, to instill the critical skills needed for the future of work
• New pathways and business models that support access and completion for learners at any point in their career and at virtually any income level



Student loans in the present and future: a Bloomberg analysis

What’s the state of student loans for American higher ed, and how is that situation likely to develop in the future? A new Bloomberg investigation yields some important and disturbing insights.

I’ll put out some key details here.

…and just to deflate any narrative tension you might be experiencing, dear reader, there aren’t many surprises. If you’ve been paying attention to student loans, that is.

The total amount of students loans is now $1.5 trillion, by Bloomberg’s count. (When will we hit $2 trillion, 2025?) Interest rates are rising, too.

Recent growth in student loans (2007 on) has outpaced all other kinds of consumer debt, by far:

Bloomberg also joins the rest of us in finding student loans exerting a downward pressure on the larger economy:

As young adults struggle to pay back their loans, they’re forced to make financial concessions that create a drag on the economy. Student debt has delayed household formation and led to a decline in home ownership. Sixteen percent of young workers aged 25 to 35 lived with their parents in 2017, up 4 percent from 10 years prior…

It’s a question of depressed demand, since loan-holders are devoting more dollars to paying down debt than did previous generations:

“You have a whole generation of people that have a significant amount of student loans and its crimping demand for other goods and services,” said Ira Jersey, the chief U.S. interest rate strategist for Bloomberg Intelligence. “As people live with their parents, or cohabit with a non-partner, millions of houses and apartments aren’t being purchased. Neither is Wi-Fi or that extra sofa. We think this is having a significant impact on the economy.”

Meanwhile, student loans are also more likely to be behind in getting paid back:

Student loan debt currently has the highest 90+ day delinquency rate of all household debt. More than 1 in 10 borrowers is at least 90 days delinquent, while mortgages and auto loans have a 1.1 percent and 4 percent delinquency rate, respectively…


#2: SNHU’s new program reimagines the concept of college

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on November 30th of this year, was our #2 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2018 countdown!]

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) is reimaging the traditional conception of college as the middle ground between high school and the workplace. In a merger with LRNG, a non-profit that serves disadvantaged youth populations, SNHU will work with cities and employers to develop innovative learning and workforce solutions.

The ambitious effort will reach out to both pre-college and older learners, offer opportunities to youth from low-income backgrounds to become more engaged with their studies and help them transition into rewarding careers. LRNG was chosen, in part, because of its groundbreaking platforms that use micro-credentials, badges, and playlists as part of the learning sequences.

“I told our team that we had to build a learning platform that accommodates an 11th-grader working on her associate’s degree as easily as it accommodates a 60-year-old formerly incarcerated adult working on his GED or high school diploma,” says Paul LeBlanc, president of SNHU.

Preparation has already begun in Chicago and Birmingham, Alabama, with plans to be fully operational in both cities by next summer. LeBlanc says that cities provide the ideal amount of scale for these solutions compared to the complexities of designing a statewide strategy.

SNHU is in the process of getting all of its systems, policies, and people in place before rolling out any formal programs, including:

  • research to discover the workforce needs of each city and the obstacles confronting young people.
  • identifying potential partners in a community and how they can work together. “We want to go into these with humility, but there’s a lot of social capital and hard work and good partners already in place, so we want to be a good partner to those angents of change, if you will,” says LeBlanc.
  • coming up with curricular options pegged to individual circumstances for the right badges, micro-credentials, and what they can unlock. For example, young people enrolled in a summer youth employment program must complete an LRNG financial-literacy playlist and earn a financial-literacy badge to collect their first paycheck.

“We think of badges as unlocking something. In this case, it unlocks the opportunity to get paid,” LeBlanc says. “They developed a playlist and badge with The Gap on workplace readiness. When students complete that playlist and earn The Gap-endorsed badge, they unlock a guaranteed job interview with The Gap. The idea is that you don’t just do learning and hope people come. You link learning to an opportunity that’s related to work and education.”

SNHU will also open mini-campuses in these cities where learners can get comprehensive support, such as assistance filling out FASA forms, tutoring, a quiet place to study, or access to a fast internet connection. Working with cities one-by-one allows SNHU to come up with custom solutions that can take advantage of existing resources. For example, they’re working with the Birmingham library system to see about using individual branches as learning centers.

LeBlanc says that many cities have expressed great interest in working with him because they see the value of having an educated workforce with the right skills to plug their specific labor gaps.

For now, SNHU wants to get the process right and come up with a model they can present when they approach other cities. “We’re trying to reinvent the educational ecosystem in some ways and that’s a big goal. Most importantly, we’re impacting tens of thousands of students’ lives and giving them pathways for more education and meaningful work and thus an economic opportunity to improve their lives.”


#3: 10 ways colleges use analytics to increase student success

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on August 13th of this year, was our #3 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2018 countdown!]

The success of higher education institutions depends on the ability to excel across the student life cycle. Regardless of the type, size, or focus of a college or university, they all strive to attract and enroll high-quality students, retain and graduate students, and maintain strong relationships with alumni.

One of the keys to realizing these outcomes is using analytics to go beyond reporting on what has happened in the past, to providing a best assessment on what will happen in the future. By applying analytics to student life cycle data, universities can generate deeper insight into students before they arrive, while they are on campus, and after they leave.

Higher-ed institutions that are already using advanced analytics in these areas have successfully transformed their processes, decision making, operations, and funding. Let’s look at how some of these innovative organizations are enhancing the student journey with analytics.

Recruitment and marketing
Universities face fierce competition for students. With increasingly restrictive budgets, recruitment officers need to focus their limited resources on the students most likely to enroll. Having a better understanding of the factors that lead to successful recruitment of a talented student requires analyzing the data of past students.

The University of Oklahoma did just that. It took a data-informed approach and created predictive models to assess the probability that an admitted student would enroll, then determined which actions recruitment officers should take. By narrowing the focus to a smaller list of students, recruitment officers could now pursue better prepared students–and use fewer resources to do it. As a result, the university had its largest and most academically prepared student body ever, including more National Merit students than any other public or private university.

As Oklahoma learned, analytics can help universities answer questions like this and more. Such as, which scholarships and amounts would not only attract select students, but also get them to apply and ultimately enroll? Are students with higher SAT scores more likely to be engaged throughout campus, perform better academically, and graduate? Are first-generation students more likely or less likely to get involved in campus? By answering questions like these, universities can tailor their recruitment and marketing efforts to enroll more successful cohorts of students.


#4: The single biggest mistake universities make when going online

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on July 2nd of this year, was our #4 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2018 countdown!]

U.S. News and World Report recently published its ranking of the best online MBA programs. The list featured 284 schools with online master’s degree programs in business administration. In December 2017, this number was 251, meaning 33 new online MBA programs were launched in the past six months!

It’s an understatement to say that online learning has emerged as top-of-mind for many institutional leaders. And for good reason. Scaling offerings through online programs or courses has become an inherent part of growth for public, private, and non-traditional colleges and universities. And for some it is even a matter of survival.

Every day, we speak to university faculty and administrators who are looking to create an online course or degree program to increase enrollment, expand their revenue base, or reposition their brand. Those conversations usually begin with the same question: “How do we put this course/program online?”

At this point, I look for a diplomatic way to explain that’s not the right question to be asking. The real question is based on a shift in thinking about online learning. You are not simply putting a course online; you are creating an online product. It’s an important distinction. Your product—the program, course, certificate, or degree—has to be unique and very specific to what your market of current and prospective students want. The question that should be asked is: “How do we create a world-class learning experience that’s tailored to our students?”

Which brings me to the single biggest mistake a university can make when creating an online course or degree program. Unfortunately, it’s also the most common one: undifferentiated online learning.

Why a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work
The vast majority of online programs are simply online versions of an already established in-person program, or a replica of a program that can be found at dozens of other universities. I’ve seen little in these cookie-cutter courses that conveys an individual institution’s distinctive approach to education. Faculty become commodities. Most are virtually identical across institutions, differentiated only by the colors and logo. With this one-size-fits-all approach, unique pedagogy and branding virtually disappears. And, when this happens, what is an institution offering students that is distinctive or unique?

Authentic, differentiated, visionary programs are driving the future of higher education. Now, more than ever, institutions need to create something that is unique and of value, which means you need to be in the driver’s seat and rise above the fray to capture and maintain students’ attention.

Geography used to be a differentiator for MBA programs, but saying you’re a “top 10 school in New England” doesn’t really help with an online MBA. The geography is now the online landscape, and the student experience online is the new campus. Having a differentiated campus is vital to program success. If the school gets this wrong, it almost doesn’t matter how well they execute the other aspects of course development and delivery.

Why aren’t more schools embracing differentiated, student-focused online learning? A lot of it comes down to governance. Universities have a governance structure that tends to favor the minimization of change and the reduction of risk. Instead of talking about enabling excellence, many institutions are stuck on standardization and adoption rates.

Excellence will be defined differently for each institution depending on the pedagogy, desired student experience and outcomes, their brand, and other attributes that make them unique. Colleges and universities need to take another look at where their online programs are going and their satisfaction with that direction. Is running with the crowd really what they want to be doing?

It’s time to move away from mass-produced, cookie-cutter programs that take a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, differentiate your students’ online learning experience, and thus your institution, by creating authentic, adaptive, engaging, customized programs that embrace your institution’s distinctive approach to education.


#5: 10 new trends defining the state of higher education

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on April 11th of this year, was our #5 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2018 countdown!]

Establishing innovative strategies for growth and preparing for industry disruption are just two of a number of trends higher-ed leaders should expect to come their way in 2018, according to a new report.

The State of Higher Education 2018, from professional services firm Grant Thornton LLP, offers guidance around emerging and potential higher-education trends in 2018. The leadership challenges and opportunities outlined in the report are shaped by the firm’s interaction with higher-ed clients.

Trends include achieving growth strategies; preparing for disruption; outsourcing via shared services consortia; using public-private partnerships; mergers, partnerships, and collaborations; tailoring fundraising to generational nuances; using independent verification and validation ( IV&V) for cloud implementation success; innovations in campus facilities usage; preparing for social media reputation risks; and new ways to measure success.

“This is a time of great potential for engaging a diverse constituency, collaborating with other institutions and private industry, and effecting substantial operational change,” writes Mark Oster, national managing partner for Grant Thornton’s not-for-profit and higher education practices. “Innovative thinking will be vital to successfully moving into the future and we hope these articles will help institutional leaders do just that.”

A sampling of trends appears below; view the full report here.

Achieving growth strategies

More institutions are following a deliberate plan for growth because they know they must adapt and innovate to be successful. Focuses on enrollment and revenue growth have increased and have emerged as critical for institutions that want to survive. Strategies for achieving growth include horizontal or vertical growth, new product channels, expansion of existing offerings, and provisioning new programs or products. Leading institutions that have successfully adopted growth strategies have some common characteristics in common, including visionary leadership, a sufficient base of support, resources in place, and grit and determination.

Prepare for disruption

Institutions that are unaware of coming change will be startled by disrupting factors, but those that know what’s going on in the higher-ed marketplace and are aware of future uncertainty can prepare for change. Institutions can prepare for a variety of disruption:

  • Prepare for global trade disruption by becoming globally astute, being relevant to diverse students worldwide, and having a presence where students are.
  • Prepare for government policy disruption by developing revenue models less reliant on tuition and state funding, and communicating the value of education offerings to students.
  • Prepare for technological disruption by integrating learning environments, addressing diverse student needs, and leveraging information for decision-making.

Using public-private partnerships

Due in part to budget and time constraints, institutions are taking innovative approaches to how they plan for future projects. Many partner with businesses and industry to achieve goals for construction, financing, and facilities operations. Short-term benefits include quicker timelines, expert management, and freed-up additional capital to invest in core mission activities. Four keys to success include identifying important criteria and proceeding only for the right reasons, making it a true partnership, knowing if the campus location is suitable for the partnership, and generating public support.

Innovations in campus facilities usage

Today, technology and digital learning are critical to students’ educational experiences, and institutions are using the physical campus footprints to incorporate technology that adapts to learning needs. Trends in university environments include constructing new environments to foster collaboration and new ideas, equipping learning spaces as smart environments with cutting-edge technology, following modern business models, and finding creative ways to repurpose unused campus space through partnerships.


#6: 7 alarming problems with students’ critical thinking

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on May 31st of this year, was our #6 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2018 countdown!]

Critical thinking is one of the top-requested skills employers look for in job applicants, but are colleges and universities doing enough to help students develop this skill?

Fifty-nine percent of surveyed adults ages 18-31 who attend or attended a college or university say they are very confident in their soft skills, including critical thinking—but that same survey also shows a decrease in that group’s ability to distinguish between false and factual information.

The second annual State of Critical Thinking survey from MindEdge asks respondents to complete a brief quiz requiring them to use digital literacy and critical thinking skills. In 2018, respondents scored lower on every question compared to 2017, and 52 percent of this year’s respondents received a failing grade.

The survey offers a number of takeaways, some more worrisome than others:

1. In 2017, 44 percent of survey respondents received an ‘F’ on the critical thinking quiz. In 2018, 52 percent of respondents failed the quiz.

2. In 2017, 24 percent of respondents answered at least 8 of the 9 quiz questions correctly. In 2018, just 19 percent of respondents answered at least 8 questions correctly.

3. Half of those surveyed recent college graduates say soft skills, such as creativity and critical thinking, and hard skills, such as computer programming and analytics, are equally important in today’s workplace. Among those who express a preference for one or the other, soft skills (31 percent) are seen as more important than hard skills (18 percent).

4. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of respondents say their college education taught them skills they’ll need to succeed in the workforce, and 59 percent are very confident in their soft skills, including critical thinking, problem solving, and public speaking.

5. Respondents tend to rate their own critical thinking skills relatively high, with just 12 percent rating critical thinking as their weakest skill. But only 25 percent of those surveyed say their peer and colleagues have strong critical thinking skills.

6. Fake news continues to present a challenge. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed receive news from social media platforms and 50 percent get their news from print or online newspapers. Nearly half (48 percent) say the fake news problem has worsened over the past year.

7. When it comes to who or what to blame for fake news, 24 percent of those surveyed blame politicians who claim negative stories about them are fake news; 21 percent blame websites that promote false content to advance a political or ideological agenda; 20 percent blame content producers who make up false stories to make money; 17 percent blame social media platforms that allow false content to go viral; and 11 percent blame content producers who make up false stories to make money.


#7: How my university is disrupting higher education

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on March 29th of this year, was our #7 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2018 countdown!]

If higher education is a ship, it has struck an iceberg. It’s taking on water rapidly, and while the situation is urgent, many people on board simply refuse to acknowledge what’s happening.

The lifeboats in this metaphor? Disruption.

That may sound a little dramatic, but it’s undeniable that many colleges and universities are stuck in 20th-century—or even 19th- century—models of higher education. In our 21st-century world, that’s no longer acceptable. Institutions are floundering, and if they don’t start to catch up, they are going to sink.

The need for disruption

Disruption in higher education needs to happen everywhere, from admissions processes to business practices and from the way we teach to the way we determine student outcomes.

At Maryville University in St. Louis, Missouri, we’re examining every aspect of what’s “traditional” in higher education, right down to the core of the culture. Higher education should be fueled by the desire to deliver opportunities and build meaningful career prospects for a wide range of students. It should not be driven by a sense of elitism—by outdated notions of who deserves to participate, whether it’s who gets to attend or who’s in the room to make decisions about the future.

We don’t define ourselves by the number of students who aren’t admitted—a time-worn bragging point among elite institutions. Maryville defines itself by the number of students we do admit, and, most important, how many we help learn, succeed, and secure the future they want for themselves.

To serve today’s students, we must prioritize their needs in real, tangible ways.

How to disrupt

1. Change the way you deliver instruction.
First and foremost, students need more effective ways to learn. It’s clear to anyone paying attention that personalized learning is what they want and soon will expect. Everyone learns differently. Higher education can no longer rely on “warehouse learning,” cramming hundreds of students in a room, employing only one teaching style and expecting it to work for everyone.


How Indiana is closing the achievement gap

Nearly every state has put renewed emphasis on ensuring that more adults get a college degree, with Indiana as a shining example. According to a report from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, the achievement gap between low-income and other student populations in the Hoosier State has narrowed by more than half and is projected to close completely by 2025. Much of the credit for this turnaround is due to Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars program.

The program is a need-based, state-aid initiative that pays up to four years of undergraduate tuition at any participating public college or university or a comparable amount for a private college. To qualify, high school students must meet 12 requirements, including attaining a GPA of at least 2.5, refraining from illegal drug use, and earning a Core 40 diploma.

At Indiana State University (ISU), about one in five entering freshmen are 21st Century Scholars. While the award money is earmarked for tuition, ISU also provides other aid for these scholars, such as housing and book allowances. When the program began, aid was available regardless of a student’s progress in college. About five years ago, however, the program switched to a more demanding schedule where students have to reach 30, 60, and 90 credit goals.

“There’s an intensive level of effort where we work with 21st Century Scholars because we want them to reach those milestones,” says Josh Powers, associate vice president for student success at ISU. “We do tons of things to instill pride. We immediately signal that they’re 21st Century Scholars. We want to be relentless in helping them [get their degree].”

Before the school year begins, scholars are invited to a pinning ceremony that recognizes their status and makes them feel that they belong in college. Speakers include students who are themselves 21st Century Scholars; incoming scholars recite a pledge to commit to their education, sign a banner, and receive a 21st Century Scholar pin.

ISU also has a student-led Scholar Corps organization for support, as well as a mentoring program where first-generation college students are matched with first-generation faculty or staff members. Some faculty even post a sticker on their office door with a message such as I WAS A FIRST-GEN IN COLLEGE. ASK ME MY STORY. “I cannot tell you how quickly the barriers go down when you recognize that this professor in front of you was that in high school or college,” Powers says.

The 21st Century Scholars program certainly helps more students stay on track for a timely graduation and allows ISU to fulfill its mission. But, Powers says, ISU also benefits in very practical terms. For example, it provides an important resource flow to the school, gives ISU higher visibility, and gains the attention of the state legislature and education commission.

For institutions that want to help their low-income or disadvantaged student populations and fulfill their state’s higher education graduation goals, Powers offers these suggestions:

  • Inclusiveness messaging. “It’s important to remind oneself that a student is not a monolith. It’s important to do some introspection about the messages you’re sending of belongingness and what you’re doing to meet them where they are.”
  • Financial literacy. ISU hires financial aid specialists during the summer to work individually with families and work through their financial circumstances.
  • Comprehensive support. ISU reinforces the message that asking for help is a sign of strength. For example, ISU has remedial math instruction so that students can get extra instruction and “really get down in the weeds and not feel uncomfortable that they’re going to be negatively viewed by the professor because they don’t understand something. It’s always a work in progress.”

#8: The top 7 programming languages to learn in 2018

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on February 1st of this year, was our #8 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2018 countdown!]

Software development is a dynamic field. New programming languages, frameworks, and technologies can emerge, become popular, and then fade away in the course of a few years. Developers need to constantly be learning new skills to stay relevant. At Coding Dojo, we’re continually evaluating which programming languages are in high demand from employers so we can prepare our students to enter the job market. There are many ways to measure a programming language’s popularity, but we believe examining job demand is most useful because it shows developers how to improve their career prospects.

To accomplish that, we analyzed data from job website Indeed.com on 25 programming languages, stacks, and frameworks to determine the top seven most in-demand coding languages as we move into 2018. This analysis is based on the number of job postings for each language. Some languages like Swift and Ruby didn’t make the top seven because they have lower job demand, even though developers love them. You can read the results of similar analysis from 2016 and 2017 on our blog.

Here’s our list, in order from most to least in-demand.

1) Java
Java decreased in popularity by about 6,000 job postings in 2018 compared to 2017, but is still extremely well-established. Java is over 20 years old, used by millions of developers and billions of devices worldwide, and able to run on any hardware and operating system through the Java Virtual Machine. All Android apps are based on Java and 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies use Java as a server-side language for back-end development. Java Enterprise Edition 8 and Java 9 both launched in September 2017 as the Eclipse Foundation took over managing Java EE from Oracle.

2) Python
Python grew in popularity by about 5,000 job postings during 2017. It is a general-purpose programming language used for web development and as a support language for software developers. It’s also widely used in scientific computing, data mining, and machine learning. The continued growth and demand for machine-learning developers may be driving the popularity of Python.

3) JavaScript
JavaScript, the grandfather of programming languages, is roughly as popular today as it was in our last blog post. That’s no surprise to us. JavaScript is used by more than 80 percent of developers and by 95 percent of all websites for any dynamic logic on their pages. Several front-end frameworks for JavaScript such as React and AngularJS have huge future potential as IoT and mobile devices become more popular, so we doubt we’ll see JavaScript drop in popularity anytime soon.

4) C++
C++ changed very little in popularity from early 2017 to now. An extension of the old-school “C” programming language, C++ is usually used for system/application software, game development, drivers, client-server applications, and embedded firmware. Many programmers find C++ complex and more difficult to learn and use than languages like Python or JavaScript, but it remains in use in many legacy systems at large enterprises.

5) C#
C# (pronounced “C sharp”) went down slightly in demand this year. C# is an object-oriented programming language from Microsoft designed to run on Microsoft’s .NET platform and to make development quicker and easier than Microsoft’s previous languages. C# 7.2 came out in November, adding several new features geared toward avoiding unnecessary copying. C#, like C++, is heavily used in video game development, so any aspiring video-game developers would do well to learn both of them.