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Thinking clearly about higher ed in 2025 requires that we reconcile 3 contradictory somewhat trends:

Trend #1 - Learning Will Be Much Improved:

The great untold story of higher education is how much more today’s students are learning as compared to when we went to college. We are in the middle of a learning revolution. This revolution will play out in all sorts of wonderful ways on our campuses in the decade to come.

What is driving this higher ed learning revolution? First, there has been an explosion of research on both how the brain learns and on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL). Second, the growth of online learning programs, and learning at scale, have driven many educators to seek out the research on effective pedagogy. And third, the growth of blended courses - even courses that have not reduced the residential component - has also driven interest and application into research based teaching methods around active learning.  

For all of these reasons and more, learning on campus has emerged as an important differentiator. There are strong economic and business reasons for institutions in an increasingly competitive environment to invest in teaching and learning. The net result is that students today are being taught better, are enjoying more learning resources, and are able to access a richer learning ecosystem. This trend towards investments in learning will only accelerate in the decade to come.

Trend #2 - Campuses and Classrooms Will Be Much Nicer:

Why is it that campuses will be much nicer if everyone is moving towards online learning programs? And weren’t MOOCs supposed to kill the campus, just as surely as Napster and iTunes killed the record store?  

Ironically, it is the growth of online learning that is driving an improvement in the quality of our physical campuses. As some foundational learning becomes commoditized and moves to Internet scale, we are learning to place a greater premium on what can be best accomplished face-to-face. If we ask our students to spend time with us in a classroom, then that classroom had best be optimally designed for learning. If we ask our students to spend time on our campuses, then that campus better offer a hugely better learning experience than what students can get at home with a laptop and an iPhone.

In 2025 we will not only see better thought and more purposefully designed classroom and campuses, we will see a much better utilization of our physical spaces. Classrooms, labs, and lecture halls are an enormously expensive fixed resource.  Rather than build lots of new residential learning spaces, we will be redesigning these spaces to take better advantage of new methods and technologies to support learning. Spaces will be flexible and purpose designed for active learning and collaboration. Since we will be redesigning learning spaces, rather than building new ones, we will need to achieve much higher rates of utilization.  The wonderful active learning classrooms that are being build across higher ed will be in heavy use in the years to come.

Trend #3 - Postsecondary Inequality Will Be Greater:

This last trend is just so depressing. And it does not have to be our future. Increased inequality across institutions is a political choice, not a foregone conclusion. All of us, at every type of and level of institution, should be fighting the trend towards public disinvestment in postsecondary education by the states.

Costs have been shifted from state budgets to individual students (and their families), driving unprecedented levels of student debt.  75 percent of undergraduates attend a public institution. The real story in higher education is public higher education.

One reason that we will see more inequality across colleges by 2025 is that more schools will be investing in quality. It will not be only the wealthy institutions that invest in learning, although they will. Rather, as learning becomes a competitive differentiator, schools that are tuition dependent as well as schools with large endowments will make these investments. This is a good result for the students enrolled at these schools, but will serve to further stratify the higher ed market as those schools that are managing rapid public defunding will not be able to make these investments.

Improved learning, nicer campuses and classrooms, and more inequality across institutions. This is the future that I see higher ed moving towards in the next decade.

What do you see as the future of higher education in 2025?


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