Higher education has been reaching a breaking point for decades. From the structure of high school curriculum to the debate over magnet schools to the question of whether society places too much emphasis on a degree with so much college debt on the other side, the future of higher education has been called into question for a long time. Then Covid-19 hit, and the glitches that were seen in the matrix finally shattered the reality that the system has been trying to hide.
The structure of higher education has to change.
And to give universities some credit, they see the flaws too and are beginning to actually have the conversations with their students and faculty to see where the problems can be remedied. Covid-19 exposed the struggles of balancing school, work, money, mental health, and family in extremely unstable times. But with that, it lays the groundwork for what college will be like in the future, and some positive changes that will come with it.
1. Flexibility will be a higher priority for class structure.
In a study conducted by Barnes & Nobles Education, 69% of students said that flexibility is a top priority for attending classes and completing coursework. With that, universities are already looking at how they can create personalized learning options for students with coursework designed to allow students to learn at their own pace.
Covid-19 also exposed some pros of virtual learning, such as that not all classes need to follow the typical lecture setup. While there is value in the traditional face-to-face style of learning, not all classes need to follow the “traditional student” model and allow for more flexibility through online or hybrid learning, especially for students who have to work while they are in school. Prior to the pandemic, 35% of students were taking at least one class online with 15% of students fully online. With the flexibility of hybrid and online learning, more students will take advantage of a flexible schedule.
2. Skill development will be a college-sponsored service.
The whole purpose of going to university is to develop skills, right? Well, yes and no. While universities provide an education to students for their field of learning, most schools don’t teach career skills for the workplace. In that same Barnes & Nobles Education survey, 47% of students said they want more career planning services provided by the universities. This included work-studies, internships, and bringing in experts from their fields of study to discuss career options post graduation.
It’s easy to assume that all a person needs is a degree to get a job. But even now, that isn’t true. Colleges providing students with opportunities to gain experience in their majors not only helps them expand their resume; it helps students better understand what they are learning when they are able to apply it to real world examples. They also develop soft skills such as conflict resolution, leadership, and teamwork that they have limited access to in a classroom setting. If students are able to graduate college with job experience, skill development, and a degree, it sets them up for an easier transition into the real world of work than previous graduates.
3. Online education will provide a more affordable way for students to complete a degree.
College is expensive. We all know that. But online classes still cost the same amount for students as a traditional classroom setting. Why is that? 94% of students believe that online education should be cheaper than in person classes, and to be honest, it makes sense. While professors put in just as much work for online classes as face-to-face classes, the actual overhead for the university is a lot smaller with the online model. And as enrollment lowers at the present with the pandemic and the long-term effects of student debt, universities have to look at changing their structure in order to stay in business.
In the Harvard Business Review’s article “What The Shift To Virtual Learning Could Mean For Higher Education,” freeing up students’ (and professors’) time with things such as group projects, electives, faculty office hours, field-based research, and more would allow for students and teachers to focus on not just their class but their future as well.
What’s better for our future than bringing the next generation into the workforce with skills, an education, and limited debt?
Universities will still exist in the future. Students will still be able to have their college experiences with student clubs, government groups, athletic events, and Greek life. But through everything that has happened in 2020, universities are beginning to see that it is just as important for them to balance the lives of their students as it is for the students to balance their lives. College in 2030 will be just as fun as it is now, but as universities shift their priorities, it won’t just be an education. It will be a well-rounded launching pad into adulthood.