3 Questions From Students About the Future of College

And my answers.

May 16, 2018

This week I was emailed three questions from students enrolled in an undergraduate Design Thinking course at my institution. For some context about the course, you can check out this two-minute video and this brief article. Below are their questions, and my answers.

Question 1: What challenges do you think future college students (about 10 years from now) will face after graduating?

The next decade is a time of intense learning and exploration. The work that you take on should be all about learning.

This learning will be informal and experiential, and will largely take place in the context of whatever job you end up in. You should make your choices about where and how you want to work with an eye towards how you can maximize what you can learn.

It may be that your best bet to maximize your on-the-job learning after you graduate is to take a nontraditional, and noncorporate, job. Try to stretch your thinking about the relationship between work and intensive learning. Be willing to look for jobs that will challenge you to learn new and different things, and in new and different ways, than you have so far experienced.

Learning is also about demonstrating what you know. You demonstrate your knowledge through credentials. What is changing is that credentials are changing. We are seeing a rapid growth of alternative credentials, such as the Professional Certificate and MicroMaster's programs from edX. Alternative and stackable credentials will not replace the need to get a graduate degree, but they will help you discover your strengths, and they will augment whatever traditional graduate degrees that you receive.

Question 2: How can a future [insert your institution] prepare its students for those challenges?

Preparing students for a future of lifelong learning is what liberal arts schools do really well. If you are a student at a quality liberal arts college, then count yourself lucky.

The challenge we have is not that we don’t have a good system of higher education to prepare students to thrive in tomorrow’s economy. The challenge is that a high-quality liberal arts education is increasingly reserved only for the privileged. An education built around teaching people to learn how to learn should not be an option for only the lucky few.

The reason that you will need to be a lifelong learner has everything to do with how work is changing. What you will need to know in your next job, and the job after that (and so on), is not what you learned in college. Your education will give you (hopefully) the foundation, skills and mind-set (resiliency, growth orientation) to learn what you will need to know. It will be up to you, however, to keep learning new things in order to stay competitive in the world of work.

Question 3: Similarly, what are the mind-sets, tools and/or abilities that will be needed for [insert your institution] students to be leaders in future?

We’ve talked about the requirement that today’s students commit themselves to be lifelong learners. To prioritize learning in decisions about what jobs to take, where to live and what to do.

The other advice I’d have is to relax a bit. You have some time to figure this all out. You don’t need to know what you want to do with your life in your 20s. Or even later. The key is to be resilient in whatever comes your way.

If you seek to maximize learning, then you might choose to do things differently. You might choose to spend time doing a different sort of work than you thought you’d end up in. Or living in a different sort of place. We learn most when we can hit that sweet spot between being out of our comfort zones and playing to our strengths. The only way to find that sweet spot is to try different things, fail and try again.

If you are worried about your future, I’d say to worry less. You will figure it out. You have time. Think of your work in terms of a 100-year career. If you knew now that you will be working for 100 years, how would that change your choices and decisions? Would you take more time to explore? Would you be less worried about what happens next year, or in the next few years?

How would you answer these three questions?


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