Response from Amrit Ahluwalia, director of strategic insights, Modern Campus.
I’ve had conversations with hundreds of provosts and senior administrators at colleges and universities across North America, and around the world, all reflecting on how the industry is evolving, how student needs are changing, and how institutions are adapting to keep pace with those shifts.
While many institutional leaders try to reflect on whether changes are flashes in the pan or meaningful disruption, the fact is that higher education has been on a consistent trajectory to make education increasingly modular and to make the student experience increasingly flexible and learner centric.
Promising: Better Student Engagement
We’re seeing colleges and universities invest in technologies built to support the learner in ways they haven’t before: Platforms built with the specific goal of engaging learners. Technologies that give learners direct pathways to success with clear career outcomes, that personalize the online experience or even simplify things like registration—these digital assets take the modern student from a ‘learner to earner’ in the most personalized and efficient path possible. The fact is that students enroll in higher education to get a job—58% of freshmen say this is their primary motivator for enrolling—and the industry is elevating to support those needs.
Technologies that put the student engagement and experience first—that support the ‘learner-to-earner’ journey—must become the norm in higher education. The modern learner is savvy, they have alternatives to the traditional path to higher education and therefore colleges and universities must adapt to the needs of the modern learner. We saw this during the pandemic: while freshman enrollment in higher education dropped 13% industry-wide, bootcamp enrollment grew 30%. The many alternatives to higher education keep pushing the status quo in how we serve modern learners.
Challenging: Transactional Infrastructure
It’s expensive for colleges and universities to attract students, but most institutions continue to focus on two- or four-year transactional relationships with students. This is a particular head-scratcher when 70% of learners are non-traditional, and when 68% of adults considering enrolling in education programming say they prefer non-degree or alternative credential options.
The commercial world outside of postsecondary education, would go bankrupt if we focused on merely short term, transactional relationships. We always search for ways to provide an experience that lets us work with that customer for life; not for two or three or four years. If that’s the length of our relationship, we go out of business. The relationship between students and institutions must change to reflect the new model of lifelong learning, and it can start with systems and processes that make learners want to stay with you.
Promising: Workforce Innovation
Higher education technology is starting to provide the framework for more workforce-oriented education and credentials. There’s a tremendous amount of innovation that’s not necessarily coming from colleges and universities, where businesses like Guild Education, 2U, Coursera, and others are filling the skills gaps that many schools view as ‘too vocational’. Innovation is coming into their space in spades, and it’s disrupting the system. This makes higher education more competitive, and those colleges and universities will innovate as a result.
Challenging: Low Coachability
Higher education’s acceptance of innovative technologies can be slow. Many colleges and universities are seeing their competitors doing things like workforce innovation well, but they’re folding their arms saying, ‘Well, that’s not for us.’ There are people like Dr. Crow (president of ASU) who’ve been amplifying their technologies and facilities for decades, but other colleges and universities aren’t hearing the call. They’re not being coachable. The innovation is out there, but institutions need to take it and make it their own.