Some Thoughts on the Future of Higher-Ed

The college of the future will have to struggle with the notion that traditional forms of education and those institutions that safeguard such education are increasingly obsolete in the face of the twenty-first-century.

6 months ago

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Colleges of the Future.
The college of the future will have to struggle with the notion that traditional forms of education and those institutions that safeguard such education are increasingly obsolete in the face of the twenty-first-century. However, traditional forms of education don't necessarily have to be safeguarded by institutions of higher learning. Instead, institutions of higher education, e.g., universities, colleges, community colleges, megaversities, etc., could lead students into the future by reconsidering what education means, its place in the twenty-first-century, and, more importantly, the resources they can offer not only current students but also members of the public and their alumni. Furthermore, future colleges/universities could (very well) stay ahead of the game by adapting the the demands of the fast-paced, tumultuous twenty-first-century by offering students, alumni, and members of the public a stable center from which innovation, knowledge, and skills can be cultivated in a low-risk, high-impact environment.

How Do We Get There?
One of the problems facing higher education is the adverse relationship these institutions have to change. And, you really can’t blame these institutions for being gun shy when it comes to changing with the times. I work for a small community college in rural New Mexico. Change is the six-letter word that many people fear. Change brings new technologies that are (usually) incomprehensible to older faculty. Change brings convolution, at least in the eyes of the weary administrator and faculty member. However, I am suggesting that change, especially thought out and organized change, could be a good thing for institutions of higher learning. Change doesn’t necessarily mean a culling of the faculty, the slashing of budgets, or the demise of the creative arts and humanities.

A real change needs to take place within institutions of higher learning. In other words, change that is both meaningful and effective. (I could also point out that change should make faculty and administrators feel as if they had some efficacy within their working environs.) With that in mind, change for higher education in the twenty-first-century will need to be paradigm-shifting change. In other words, we, as a nation and as a field, will need to reconsider what it means to have an education. Moreover, we will need to decide what students must master and have honed before they can carry on into the so-called real world—that is the world outside of the institution of higher learning they have attended for X number of years. Although competency-based education, to me, is just the tip of the spear, it will need to play a role in what we consider _quality _education. On top of competency-based education, we will also need to foster things that are a bit harder to measure: collaboration, innovation, creativity, etc. We are facing down the barrel of automation, folks, and we need to make sure our students are prepared for a world that will be unlike anything seen in human history. If we simply teach things that can be gobbled up in the varying waves of automation, what’s the point in our institutions?

Building the Future.
Building the future institutions of higher learning will take a good plenty of late-night work, ingenuity, and cross disciplinary collaboration. We are seeing changes occurring every day, even in my little corner of higher education in rural New Mexico. However, what I don’t see is serious consideration toward the future. We are stuck in a twentieth-century paradigm when it comes to higher education, especially in poorer, poverty-stricken states like New Mexico. We need to be thinking about how to stay ahead, how to stay relevant, and how to be the stable center that ensure creativity, collaboration, innovation, and the fostering of life-long skills. To do this, higher education institutions will have to start thinking about the future now. The problem with higher education, and the problem with any institution, is that dominant paradigms tend to dominate thinking, cloud it really. That means we need to start using the very same skills we are supposed to be helping our students hone—skills like critical thinking, among other things.

Some Visions of the Future.
In order to succeed in the twenty-first-century, colleges/universities might consider doing the following on their campuses*:
— Offer innovation and creative collaboration labs for students (and members of the public) to experiment and learn about their passions and their world/universe through informal learning processes.
— Offer resources to current and former students and members of the public. These could include access to the innovation labs (see above), inexpensive access to library resources, small business development centers, etc.
— Provide a stable center for innovation, learning, and resources. In other words, create a sustainable and adaptable (i.e., responsive) center for the community and for students (current and former alike).
— Adopt tried and true technologies and even dabble in the experimental or cutting edge. In other words, serve as the community’s center for digital literacy and technological experimentation. Don’t shy away from technological solutions. See technology as a force-multiplier for the college/university.
— Encourage wild ideas from the faculty. In other words, trust that your faculty know how to prepare students and members of the community for the future. Don’t ignore their ideas, even the crazy ones.
— Avoid unnecessary oversight and bureaucratization of the institution.
— Encourage cross disciplinary collaboration and dialogue. Doing so will ensure that faculty are working together toward student success and the institution’s sustainability.

*Mind you, some colleges/universities are already leading the pack by doing these things. However, there are a number of regional universities and colleges that are ignoring pushing away from many of these ideas.

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G. Michael Rapp

Published 6 months ago


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