4 Emerging Trends That Will Create Opportunities for Universities in 2020

Lifelong learning is essential for a successful career, which creates opportunities for universities to empower more students to achieve their goals. Explore trends that are enabling higher education institutions to personalize the student journey, strengthen outcomes, and sustain enduring success.

January 26, 2020

By Jay Hatcher

There are many reasons to be energized about the future of higher education. Yes, the previous decade presented many challenges, from declining enrollments to decreased state funding. But as a new decade begins, lifelong learning is becoming increasingly essential for a successful career. As a result, institutions have opportunities to help more students achieve their goals.

Which changes are creating new ways to support more learners in 2020 and beyond? Let’s explore four current and upcoming trends to watch closely.

1. Collaborating With Employers to Build Impactful Programs

Disruptive technologies are reshaping how people work. This year, the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) will add 2.3 million jobs to the labor market while 1.8 million jobs become obsolete. To ensure students qualify for advanced roles, universities need to team up with employers to design programs around their specific skill requirements.

Recent data revealed the necessity of these partnerships. In 2019, Wiley Education Services and Future Workplace published Closing the Skills Gap, a study that showed nearly two-thirds of employers believe workforce capabilities fall short of company needs. What’s more, less than half of employers think universities prepare students to join the workforce.

This data is more than eye-opening — it provides motivation for universities to work with companies to identify and address their talent needs. With insights from employers, universities can build short courses and certificate programs that focus on specialized skills along with degree programs that can educate the next generation of technology leaders.

Note that these partnerships should not be viewed as short-term solutions. They are strategic alliances that help companies keep skills gaps at bay as universities prepare workers to thrive in highly valued roles.

2. Embracing AI to Personalize the Student Journey

More than 50 percent of students research learning options for a year or longer before they contact a university. But this does not mean that recruitment teams should wait by the phone while students complete their search. Instead, they must embrace emerging marketing platforms to ensure their programs stand out to prospective students — and artificial intelligence powers many of these technologies.

AI helps universities throughout every step of the student journey. Pre-application, AI-driven tools can automate student outreach, deploying relevant program details with greater accuracy than manual processes. It also powers the behavioral analytics tools that make confident predictions about whether applicants will enroll. And after classes begin, AI-driven data platforms help advisors support at-risk students at the first sign of trouble.

Despite these advantages, some administrators express apprehension about AI. One concern is that AI will eliminate the human touch that helps students form personal connections with a university. In actuality, the capabilities of AI can strengthen personalization by delivering the data needed to engage students on their terms. Additionally, faculty and support staff can use AI to automate tedious tasks, creating time for them to make interactions with students more meaningful.

Before universities adopt AI, administrators will need to educate themselves about its benefits, as well as offer development opportunities that enable instructors, advisors and marketers to leverage these platforms. Training should show how these technologies support campus personnel rather than replace them. This should be easy to convey, as there is no substitute for the human touch in learning.

3. Defining CBE to Bring Consistency to This Model

Competency-based education (CBE) has generated considerable buzz throughout academia in recent years, with good reason. This model allows students to gain new skills and demonstrate what they learn to progress through a program at their own pace. Furthermore, some universities use CBE principles to award academic credit based on experience, helping students graduate faster and for less money.

But there are challenges, considering the myriad ways many higher education institutions view CBE. For instance, a 2019 survey of chief academic officers (CAO) showed that universities often take differing approaches when awarding credit for demonstrated competencies. Additionally, nearly two-thirds of CAOs said their schools are not considering CBE pathways for programs. Even so, more than half of respondents believe students should be able to earn credits for what they have learned outside of classrooms.

For CBE programs to gain traction, universities need to come together to define consistent standards for them. Considerations include how universities measure competencies, award credit for work experience and empower professors to lead these programs. Determining these elements could help more students know what to expect when they pursue competency-based learning.

4. Taking a Learner-Centric Approach to Elevate Outcomes

Accelerating technological change requires people to pursue development opportunities throughout their careers. For this reason, universities must take a learner-centric approach to make it easier to access an education and succeed once classes begin.

Fostering success depends on meeting the unique needs of each learner, but there are challenges to doing so. As the Online College Students report shows, the population of online learners is growing in complexity. A single class may include recent high school students, community college graduates, working adults and single parents — complexity that makes AI essential for personalization. Moreover, students have a range of learning preferences, so it is necessary to offer programs in their desired format, be it online, on campus or a hybrid of the two.

Taking a learner-centric approach also requires universities to scrutinize current policies to eliminate barriers to learning. During this process, administrators should continuously ask: Is this policy in the student’s best interest? Or does it exist because we’ve always done things this way? If the answer to the latter is yes, streamlining policies could empower more students to achieve their goals.

Tailoring programs for individual needs is vital now that students have more choices on where they will continue their education. If a local university does not offer a flexible education pathway to a student’s goals, a student may find a distance-learning program that does. Wiley Education Services understands this, and that is why we partner with universities to design, build and manage custom education programs that empower learners to achieve their next goal and the many that follow. Through our technology-enabled services and solutions, we help university partners deliver personalized learning experiences and stand out in a competitive marketplace.

Find New Opportunities as Higher Education Evolves

Visit edservices.wiley.com/resources to access insights for supporting lifelong learners. You will discover white papers, infographics, articles and case studies that share how universities can adapt to continuous change and empower students to achieve enduring success.


About the Author

Jay Hatcher is the vice president of business development at Wiley Education Services. He leads the team responsible for joining forces with higher education institutions to build long-term strategic partnerships. His goal is to ensure university partners effectively attract, recruit, engage and retain students while preserving academic quality and rigor at an institution.



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