Education as an industry has undeniably missed the change cycle. Today’s higher ed system is based on foundations that were built centuries ago for a country fundamentally different from the one we live in today. Historically, higher ed existed to train the clergymen in subjects that many today consider to be “intellectual nice-to-haves.” Over time, the shift in U.S. population demographics resulted in a need for specialized, almost vocational training programs; however, universities were not able to make that shift.
University tuition has become more expensive, the curricula less useful, and high-paying jobs less accessible for today’s college graduates.
In our lifetimes, we will see three major shifts in the U.S. higher education system:
- The demise of many ineffective, traditional, four-year universities programs
- Increased accountability among traditional higher education survivors
- The rise of mainstream alternative education platforms (in person and online)
Public funding for higher ed in the United States is gradually decreasing. Overall state funding for public colleges in the 2017 school year was nearly $9 billion below its 2008 level (after adjusting for inflation). As states sponsor less and less, these institutions are forced to find other ways to survive. More often than not, this means increasing tuition. However, increased tuition, thus far at least, has come without a higher quality of education and more successful career outcome metrics. Schools that cannot create positive return-on-investment (ROI) career outcomes for students will close.
Additional changes on the horizon
Those that do survive will be forced to adapt. The remaining universities will be judged on their ability to create meaningful outcomes for their students. Curricula will become career-focused and students will have the power of choice and information on their side. Pretty soon, a university whose outcomes profiles do not match its costs will be viewed as a scam!
With the restructuring of the traditional higher ed system, we will also see the continued growth of alternative education providers, many of whom are already taking the 21st century by storm. We expect this trend to not only continue but grow in magnitude. Platforms like Udemy, Udacity, and Coursera have made massive open online courses increasingly popular; traditional universities are partnering with these companies to offer certificate-granting programs. Perhaps the most notable trend in alternative education is the emergence of coding schools and bootcamps, and other physical, vocational education providers.