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Thinking About 'Massification of Higher Education Revisited’

Why we may be at peak U.S. college, but we are decidedly not at peak global higher education.

February 28, 2019
 
 

How worried are you about the future of higher education?

If you are paying even a little bit of attention, the answer is probably “very.”

If you are not worried now, go and read Bryan Alexander’s Casualties of the Future: College Closures and Queen Sacrifices or Steven Mintz’s A Worrisome Glimpse Through a Spyglass, and then report back how you are feeling.

I’m here to cheer you up.

We may or may not be at peek U.S. higher education - see my debate with Bryan - but we are nowhere near peak U.S. higher ed.  The future of global higher ed is probably the real story that we should be tracking.

It is essential to take note of all the challenges that U.S. institutions, particularly non-wealthy tuition-dependent liberal arts schools, are enduring.  The demographic and economic forces that these schools are fighting against are daunting, and perhaps insurmountable.

The global higher ed story, in comparison to the local private college narrative, should give anyone who cares about the future of higher education some reasons to smile.

I’ve been looking at a 2018 report prepared by Angel Calderon of Australia’s RMIT University. The report is called Massification of Higher Education Revisited.

Some key findings:

  • Global postsecondary enrollments are projected to increase from 214.1 million in 2015 to 594.1 million in 2040.
  • The number of students enrolled in higher education institutions in East Asia & the Pacific is projected to increase from 69.4 million in 2015 to 257.6 million in 2040.
  • In South & West Asia, similar projections are an increase of 42.4 million students in 2015 to 160.4 million in 2040.
  • Latin America & the Caribbean will see higher education enrollment going from 25.3 million in 2015 to an expected 65.6 million in 2040.
  • The Arab States are projected to see an increase of postsecondary enrollments from 10.7 million in 2015 to 22.3 million in 2040.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa will see university enrollments grow from 7.4 million in 2015 to 21.7 million in 2040.
  • During this same period, the number of students studying in the U.S. and Western Europe will grow only from 37.5 million (2015) to a projected 43.7 million in 2040.

To put this plainly, the action in higher ed is not in the U.S.

We tend to be blinded by the fact that the best colleges and universities are disproportionately concentrated in North America.  It is an open question how fast global institutions will catch up to the U.S. in terms of rankings and prestige.

What seems beyond debate is that the center of gravity of higher education is likely to move to Asia, with Africa and Latin America also becoming hugely important.

How should U.S. institutions change to take advantage of growing global demand for higher education?

Should those of us who work in academia be thinking more about building international career experience?

Should graduate programs prioritize international experience and global training?

Does your institution have a global higher ed strategy?

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