3 ways higher ed needs to rebuild to survive

The higher ed system will be forced to rebuild itself on a new set of pillars: accessibility, outcomes, and high ROI

Higher ed will be forced to rebuild itself on a new set of pillars: accessibility, outcomes, and high ROI.

Attending a “good” private college for four years today costs at least $140,000. The vast majority of students need to take out student loans, assuming they even get into these “good” colleges. Many students, because of their backgrounds, never take the SAT/ACT or receive proper college-counseling guidance.

The future will have to be different. The one-size-fits-all approach of a standard four-year, tuition-based education will be challenged. Apprenticeship models will become more common as corporate entities begin paying for some portion of student education costs. The Common Application will disappear; studies have shown SAT scores, high school GPAs, and college essays to be very poorly correlated with career success. The college application will be customized, based on what the college offers. Do you want to attend Stanford’s computer science program? Show Stanford that you can code and care deeply about technology. The path to college will allow for anyone to get in.

Tomorrow’s universities will not be rewarded financially unless they place their students into jobs. Thus, their goals and the goals of their students will be perfectly aligned. Upfront tuition will be the first relic to go.

A set of alternative educators are already testing out income-share agreements as alternatives to traditional loans, whereby students attend college for free but agree to pay back a percentage of their income for a fixed number of years. There is no upfront tuition. There are no student loans. Instead, the educational institution takes on the financial burden (and risk) of a student’s education.

High ROI
ROI will determine which programs exist in the long run. If the average four-year private university costs around $140,000 and the average liberal-arts graduate earns ~$35,000 per year (pre-tax), it may take that student a decade or more to make up for the cost of his/her education. Negative ROI programs will be replaced by outcome-focused, high-ROI counterparts. If a college education is not a worthy investment, students and parents will choose an alternate path.

Change, though badly needed, is often slow to permeate through the various layers of the education bureaucracy. The time, however, is ripe and we will see dramatic shifts in the way the public views higher education over the next decade.

eSchool Media Contributors