Higher Education in 2026?

1915 women graduates - University of Toronto - via Wikipedia

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a new report, "2026 The Decade Ahead," it has recently published. I haven't read it and I probably won't read it. My involvement in higher education is less involved these days, but more so, I'm not going to spend $149 for the digital version ($199 for paper) of the report. There are always predictions of where we are headed in technology, education and in general. Many are free and I don't know that the differences in accuracy between free and paid versions is significant.

People do pay for these reports, and there are companies built on the job of predicting. Today, predictive analytics is a whole field and industry that seems to do quite well crunching numbers. In this election year, that is certainly a popular game, though one I rarely find interesting or instructive. Usually, I find these predictions to be wrong, but it is rare for people to go back and check on them. Idea for (someone else's) blog post in 2026: Check back on this report. Set a calendar reminder. So, what changes are in store for higher education over the next 10 years? The Chronicle's teaser says that "evolutionary shifts in three critical areas will have significant consequences for students and institutions as a whole."

1. Tomorrow’s students will be significantly more diverse and demand lower tuition costs.

2. Faculty tenure policies will be reexamined as deep-seated Boomers retire.

3. How colleges are preparing students to succeed in an evolving global economy will be intensely scrutinized. 

My immediate observation is that all three of those shifts have been evolving for at least the past decade - if not for several decades and possibly for a century or two in some ways. Of course, the answers are hopefully in the details that come in the full report.  Did you read it? How about a comment for those of us without an expense account or purchase order?



Minds Online

brainOnline courses have definitely opened access to students in remote areas. They also offer option to people with learning requirements that require more flexibility with meeting times, and more critically with issues of physical accessibility and even learning disabilities.

There are lots of books, articles and theses devoted to this research on teaching with technology. More recently, I see research on the ways in which online teaching can improve learning for all students.

More and more traditional, full time, on or near campus students add online courses to their schedule. In many cases, it's for the same reasons as students at a distance - time scheduling around work, and enjoying the freedom and different approaches to learning an online class offers.

We don't hear these courses and programs referred to much anymore as "distance learning" because distance is not the biggest factor for enrollments.

Michelle Miller, a professor of psychological sciences and co-director of the first-year learning program at Northern Arizona University, usually researches language and memory, but a newer book by her looks at the role technology can play in improving the learning experiences of all students. That research appears in Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology.

In an article on chronicle.com, she says that "One of the reasons Northern Arizona University values teaching with technology is our geography and location. We’re located in the middle of some vast, sparsely populated spaces, and a major part of our mission as an institution is to serve the educational needs of the people spread throughout these spaces. Especially critical is our commitment to serving the needs of Native American students, many of whom live or spend time in rural reservation communities." 

It is only recently that educational technology has mixed with neuroscience and cognitive psychology to design with the brain in mind. These designers are considering how attention, memory, critical thinking, and analytical reasoning can be used for technology-aided approaches. This approach seems relevant for teachers and instructional designers.

Online courses by their very delivery seem to be a natural pathway to using technology for learning. Miller says that cognitive psychologists already knew that frequent checks for learning (quizzing) is beneficial to learning. This "testing effect" doesn't work very easily in a traditional classroom. In an online course, repeated quiz attempts with different questions and adaptive learning techniques to adapt a quiz's topics or questions to an individual student is easier. Of course, this technology can also be used with students in an actual classroom with some course retooling.

This is a key concept for Miller who suggests that "for more complex activities such as problem-solving exercises, simulations, and case studies. Using online tools, we can set up multiple scenarios, present them as many times as we want, and customize the content or pacing for different students. We know from research that effortful practice is the way to master complex skills, and technology offers new ways to lead students into this effortful practice."

Miller's book is not just theory. In the chapter on "Putting It All Together," she offers a sample syllabus for an online course with commentary linking the policies to the cognitive principles covered in the book. 

Aligning online pedagogy with learning science and putting instructional design and cognitive science together into usable design principles seems to be a worthy, though difficult, process.


Of Course, There Is Life After College


A new book, There Is Life After College by Jeff Selingo, is out this month. It looks at stories of 20-somethings and their experiences in and out of school and how those experiences shaped their success in the job market.

He looks at factors such as the skills that proved most helpful, in an attempt to discover why some students prosper, while others fail.  (There is a free preview of the book's introduction.)

Jeff Selingo previously wrote College (Un)bound and there is some crossover, such as the need for students to understand the jobs (especially ones that did not exist a few years ago) available to them and the need to be lifelong learners. 

There Is Life After College is about after college and the concerns about that time come not only from students but from parents. Parent are anxious about their college-educated child to successfully landing a good job after graduation and their own or the student's significant debt which (especially in an uncertain job market) may leave that child financially dependent on their parents for years to come. Both parties may well ask, "What did I pay all that money for?"

While Selingo's earlier book may have answered that question with thoughts about alternatives to the degree, such as MOOCs or competency-based degrees, this new book looks a lot at that Return on Investment (ROI).

Does where you go to college matter? Most of the data says it does. The better schools get more students to graduation on time and their name recognition value is real. My one son is in finance and for many of the Wall Street banks and firms he interviewed with they only wanted to look at Ivy League graduates. There is a nice interactive visualization tool from Jon Boeckenstedt that shows graduation rates by the selectivity of the school. The ability of the nation's oldest and wealthiest colleges to graduate white men who end up wealthy is real. Not that less selective schools mean no chance of success, but it may come with more effort required. But the really surprising take on this kind of data to me was that it's not that you should choose a college because of its graduation rate, but that the college will select you based on your propensity to graduate.

For the book, Selingo conducted a survey of young adults who had at least some college experience and were born between 1988 and 1991, giving them some time to start a career in their mid-twenties. Based on that survey, they divided the transition from adolescence into adulthood by new college graduates into three groups: Sprinters, Wanderers, or Stragglers. This charts appears in his newsletter


The full results of the survey are in the book, but one result was that two-thirds of new college graduates fail to find meaningful employment in the years after they leave school. They either drift from job to job, live with their parents or work part-time gigs that don’t require a college degree. 

Of course, there IS life after college, but the book taps a trend we see of more difficult and longer transitions to post-college life and looks to suggest ways that graduates can market themselves. He suggests that process to plan for a young professional starts at the end of high school through college graduation. Seems like this book would make a good high school graduation gift.