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Five Trends in Higher Education Accelerated by COVID-19

Five Trends in Higher Education Accelerated by COVID-19

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In an opinion piece published by Higher Ed Dive, Denison University president Adam Weinberg writes that there are five higher education trends being accelerated by the pandemic.

The topic is not new; Scott Galloway wrote about these changes in his new book, Post Corona. However, I found the perspectives coming from the president of a small, private liberal arts college to be interesting. President Weinberg writes that the following five higher education trends are not new, but the pandemic has accelerated them.

1. Growing technology use is the first trend written about by President Weinberg. While e-learning platforms were utilized during the pandemic by almost all colleges out of necessity, Mr. Weinberg believes that technology will continue to play a role in college classrooms. In addition, he states that college administrators have “found” ed tech and are opening their eyes to ways in which technology can enhance operations, the delivery of textbooks, communications, and even placement of internships.

2. Technology is creating new ways for courses to be delivered. A single course can provide students with the options to attend in person, watch a livestream from their homes, or review learning materials at their convenience.

Non-traditional players like Google and Amazon have also created ways to work and earn a certificate or degree. Clearly, having alternative choices that lead to employment will influence students’ choices of educational institution or company.

3. College costs will decrease, according to President Weinberg. While President Biden’s infrastructure proposals include free community college, Mr. Weinberg believes that larger state schools will find ways for students to graduate with no student loans. Ohio State announced its intention to the be the first public university to offer a zero-debt bachelor’s degree.

Meanwhile, private colleges with small endowments struggling for enrollments will continue to increase their discount rates as a strategy to increase enrollment. Ultimately, the student benefits.

4. Colleges will increase their focus on preparing students to launch, according to President Weinberg. Parents and students will want to know that college will prepare them with the life skills needed to manage a complicated, constantly changing world and enable them “to launch professionally and personally.” President Weinberg cites early initiatives at Boston University’s BU Hub, Denison University’s Launch Lab, and Yale University’s online course, “The Science of Well-Being.”

5. Skills will be emphasized over degrees. As educational choices increase, people are going to talk far less about degrees and majors and more about skills and experiences, according to President Weinberg. Companies are less interested in students’ majors and more interested in value-added skills that they bring to an organization.

Companies are also interested in the experiences that indicate students can handle rapidly changing and competitive work environments. Colleges will develop better ways for students to document these skills and experiences. Skills in data analysis, computer programming, and statistics will be highly valued.

According to President Weinberg, every institution will have to respond to these trends. To be successful, he believes each institution needs to focus on two questions:

1. How do we deepen student learning in ways that allow student to be the architect of their lives?

2. How do we do this in ways that create good jobs and working environments within the institution, so talented people are drawn to and stay committed to the field of higher education?

He writes that you can’t provide solutions to number one without solutions to number two.

In my opinion, Adam Weinberg has excellently summarized the higher education trends most likely accelerated by the pandemic. Even better, he’s assessed what institutions need to do to pivot toward an improved education for their students. However, I don’t know that he has prepared others for the deeply complicated coordination required by educational institutions or for the “need for speed” regarding implementing these changes.

The pandemic has increased the amount of time spent on screens for all of us, employees and students alike. I’ve observed many college students, particularly student athletes, who have set up LinkedIn accounts and announced their choice of summer internships selected on multiple social media accounts, including Twitter and LinkedIn. That’s smart and likely to later confirm the review of credentials from prospective employers when they seek a permanent job. If their colleges have required or encouraged this use of social media and internships, even better.

Prospective college students and their parents are social media-savvy (with perhaps the exception of high school students using LinkedIn) and are likely to observe students from institutions touting the internships and job offers that they receive. Just as some students deferred their freshman year start due to the pandemic, others have observed the dynamics of the pandemic on employer recruiting.

Prospective students and parents are watching as well. If just 20 percent of them shift their choices, the financial consequences are likely disastrous for all but the most well-funded institutions. There’s a quote from author William Gibson, “the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”

While all of these pandemic-induced five trends in higher education are important, those institutions able to scale educational offerings through technology and provide affordable, relevant certificates and programs may preclude some institutions from ever catching up and meeting the needs of the market. Time is of the essence.

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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, and as a member of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.

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