One framework to think about the future of higher education is to do so in 35-year increments. Thirty-five years is about the span of an entire career if one spends most or all of one’s life working in higher education. If your first academic job comes at age 30, and you retire at 65, that is 35 years. Someone starting their higher education work in 2025 might reasonably expect to make it to 2060.
The other reason that I’m thinking about the future of higher education in 35-year increments is that my undergraduate college experience was 35 years ago. I graduated college in 1991. Taking 1990 and 2025 as anchor dates helps ground this exercise.
My 1990 college experience does not feel all that far away. I can remember (or reconstruct) most things about what it was like to be a college student in 1990. Something about how our minds work makes the past feel closer than the present. 1990 feels much more immediate than 2060, although they will be equally distant in 2025.
One way to start thinking about higher education in 2060 is to assume that the rate and magnitude of change going forward will mirror past changes. Higher education will be as different in 2060 from today as today is different from 1990. Using this (perhaps dubious) approach, we figure out all the significant ways that higher education has changed from when I was in college until today. Then, we use those changes’ size, impact and effects to make 35-year predictions.
So that is where I’m going to start. I will try to forecast the future by looking at the past. But I need some help. Setting aside your skepticism of the wisdom of this exercise (change is spiky and unpredictable, etc.), can you help to articulate all that has changed in higher education between the anchor dates of 1900 and 2025? (Yes, I know that we are in 2023. But if this turns into something like a book—it will never be out before 2025, so let’s do a bit of stretching).
In future posts, I’ll explore the story of higher education change from 1990 to 2025. Please do not hesitate to communicate your 35-year thoughts. If you tweet on this prompt, please tag @joshmkim. Some of you are in the habit of sending me emails, which is always appreciated. If so moved, you can also send a letter to the IHE editor. I am happy to receive recommendations for books, articles, sites or pointers to primary resources to help construct this 1990 to 2025 higher education story.
What else would you do over the Thanksgiving break than think about how higher education has changed over the past 35 years?
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.