What Will Higher Education Look Like in 2020?

Over the last 20 years, changes in technology have been pivotal in allowing educational institutions to move into a technology-mediated teaching and learning world.

These changes have created new opportunities for students, and new obstacles for colleges and universities to overcome.

Every day educators must discover new ways to answer modern education challenges like dropping enrollment rates, increased student expectations, and decreased funding. 

In this article, we look at the changes educational institutions will need to undergo to stay competitive and appealing in 2020 and beyond. 

Unbundling of Education

As adult learners and working professionals become more of a priority for the education sector, the way education is delivered will need to adapt to cater for this new market. 

Due to digital technologies, the way and rate at which people learn is changing. With less time available, many students now want to have access to learning programs that are flexible and accessible. Enter unbundling. 

Aware of this shift leading institutions such as MIT have unbundled traditional programs to offer shorter and more flexible options. By providing a new offering the institution is tapping into a new market and providing learners with relevant and specialized content that they can apply to a role instantly. 

By looking at competency-based education universities, colleges and training providers can align skills with the needs of the job market and also provide talent that is needed across industries. Examples of these new type of education products include:

  • Short 'degrees'
  • Professional certifications
  • Just-in-time learning e.g. bootcamps

While some institutions think this may be the 'death' of higher education in its current state, there's no denying this shift is happening with some employers such as Ernst & Young and Google looking to remove the barrier of needing a degree in the hiring process and instead looking to the era of a competency marketplace.   

Increased use of analytics for retention and graduation

Unbundling of Education

Analytics will also become a major, and mainstream, part of ensuring students are getting the most from education and graduating on time.

By using predictive analytics institutions can provide students with support services before they encounter problems. For example, the University of Nevada is already using analytics to pinpoint when students need earlier intervention. Using its Anatomy and Physiology class - with a nearly 50% fail rate - the institution used analytics to enable faculty to see patterns that raise red flags, like when students become at risk of failing. Using the insights, instructors step in to provide timely interventions.

Another use of data is to step in early to boost graduation rates. Using data gathered from their Learning Management System, Georgia Southern was able to predict, measure and guide student performance for better graduation rates. According to 53,000 data points the school gathered from 3,155 students, their system is able to predict a passing final grade with 82% accuracy at the course midpoint.

As students continue to move through a course, the system’s accuracy improves, with an 87% accuracy by the 16th week of a course. By leveraging this system, Georgia Southern aims to produce 250,000 more graduates in upcoming years. Through this extra attention to detail, universities are able to retain students and see them through to graduation.

Beyond 2020, educators may also leverage data to see where their students are at all touchpoints and stages of their educational process — from buying cycle to alumni donor — to maximize a student’s lifetime value.

Decreased Reliance on Government Funding

Countless reports covering the student loan debt crisis forces institutions and students to ensure the courses on offer are worth the price and offers value in terms of career development. And, as the cost of high education continues to rise — specifically, by 3% year-over-year, for the past three decades — finding new ways to fund higher education is becoming a more popular conversation.

Students and parents are strapped to cover tuition and loan repayments, making them unlikely donors to a school endowment. And, state budget cuts make it almost impossible to continue supporting the cost growth of educational institutions.

In fact, state schools in Illinois currently depend on the government for nearly 33% of their operating budget. And, according to the Chicago Tribune, Illinois didn’t have a state budget, as of July 2016, which sent the system into a tailspin.

Currently, Moody’s Rating Outlook, which defines the financial outlook across various sectors, labels the strongest universities as the ones who don’t solely rely on students for their revenue.

As pressures to find financing grows, and competition between universities stiffens, many colleges and universities began to increase their emphasis on faculty research. And while state-of-the-art research facilities have always piqued the interest of businesses looking to fund applied research and development, the latest technology has paved the path for more effective public-private partnerships, which are likely to synergize more rapidly in the near future.

Change in Business Model

Decreased Reliance on Government Funding

Entering into public-private partnerships is not only a new way to finance higher education, it could also spur change in the entire business model. With increased technological capabilities, the overlap between education and business is more apparent than ever.

Tech companies like Google, IBM, Amazon are already critical to higher education from both a technology and service standpoint. And recently, regarding higher education integration, they have been a part of more acquisition and merger conversations.

It’s a mutually beneficial partnership as some companies are moving toward requiring workers have specific skills rather than college degrees. Alternative credentials and online programs are already changing the way students and working professionals can complete and present their classroom accomplishments in ways employers can understand easily.

By 2020, these partnerships may become a more common model at colleges and universities. 

A Student-Centric System

As the business model and financing model of higher education evolves, so will the focus. Rather than being consumed by financing and funding, educational institutions can leverage technology to focus on a student-centric learning model.

For example, Learning Management Systems (LMS) are evolving to be more than just online courses and discussion boards.

By 2020, the LMS will play a more significant role in:

  • Connecting students with advisors
  • Making tuition bill-pay easier
  • Offering a convenient way to make appointments with counselors
  • Checking and submitting for financial aid
  • More robust job boards
  • Connecting current students with alumni

Students have come to expect a better, more comprehensive school experience, and as the education business model shifts, a learner-centric constructivist paradigm will prevail. 

The impact of new technologies

The impact of new technologies

Higher education changes won’t all be about policies and procedures. There are incredible  technological advancements that will revolutionize the way students learn as well. Technology will allow learners to transport to different times and places and experience new worlds using:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Virtual reality
  • Machine learning
  • Universal accessibility
  • Natural language processing
  • Adaptive learning

For instance, medicine or engineering students may soon be able to use holographic imagery to examine and manipulate three-dimensional forms like human bodies or complex infrastructure for more hands-on learning.

While those advancements may be further off than 2020, something more realistic in the short term could be leveraging AI-driven bots for improved learning experiences.

For the last several years, scientists at University College London analyzed hundreds of thousands of hours of audio and written data from AI-driven tutorials. Their goal was to find what makes a successful lesson and a strong educator through AI and machine learning.

The results they have achieved allowed them to start a full-scale tutoring service for further testing. As the outcomes continue to show favorable progress, the idea of AI-driven bots as tutors in higher education is becoming more possible and functional. 

It’s very likely in the next couple of years, AI tutors will be more mainstream in educational institutions.

Change in Learners

Today’s world has nearly 3.49 billion internet users, and much of internet traffic is generated from mobile devices while 2022, will see 59% of people owning a smartphone.

It is possible to participate in a community where learners can be on different continents and still collaborate in real-time. And, this increase of education accessibility has empowered students to go to school regardless of common deterrents like:

  • Location
  • Economic status
  • Scheduling conflicts

The next phase is to start making connectivity more inclusive. According to a study conducted by Global Shapers, almost 80% of students reported they have taken an online course, however most courses are taught exclusively in English.

In the near future, possibly as soon as 2020, real-time translations will make it increasingly possible for anyone to understand lectures regardless of modern constraints.

Future Challenges

As new technologies are introduced, it’s important to remember not everyone is a technophile. In order for new technologies to be adopted at high rates, staff and faculty must work to adjust institution culture to accept any further advancements.

2020 is just the start. Exciting technological advancements will continue to shape the educational landscape to something unrecognizable from what it is today. 

 And, luckily for everyone, it seems future progressions are aimed at improving customization and experience for each student.