Serendipity35 crossed over the 14 year anniversary on February 2 this year as people were predicting the American football Supr Bowl and predicting the remaining weeks of winter based on a groundhog or the traditions of Candlemas. Usually, I look back on the previous year on this blog's anniversary, but this year I decided to look ahead.
Looking ahead and making predictions is a December and January tradition. I feel like most of the time those predictions don't come true, but we often don't look back to check them. In education and especially in technology, it's hard to predict what is coming in the year ahead. That is why I had to look at an article I saw that was titled "Five Predictions About U.S. Higher Education In 2040."
2040? It's hard enough to see ahead to the end of 2020. So the author of that piece, Sally Blount, is either crazy, has Nostradamus DNA, realizes that no one is going to check back on her predictions in 20 years, or she has analyzed real data.
She is a contributor to Forbes, former dean of New York University’s Stern Undergraduate College of Business and seems to specialize now in careers. She analyzed the data and marketplace of the U.S. post-secondary education along with Larry Shulman, senior partner emeritus at the Boston Consulting Group and they came up with 5 "not-so-crazy predictions" about how the U.S. market for four-year bachelor’s degrees will likely look in 20 years.
One prediction is that half of those college degrees will be awarded to students who have spent three years or less on a college campus. How will that happen? More courses per semester? Trimester years rather than bimester years? No. It's based on the number of college-level courses (Advanced Placement), tests and enrollments in college-level online courses that have been expanding "outside credits" by about 5-10% per year over the last decade.
Their second prediction plays off #1. With three-year bachelor’s degrees becoming more of the new normal, private colleges and universities offering 4-year degrees will close. Less time on campus means fewer tuition dollars. Add slowing enrollment growth and more pressure to hold down tuition costs and they calculate a 30-40% contraction among private non-profits over the next 20 years. If you consider that as many as 20 private colleges closed in the past year and that trend just stays flat, for the next 20 years, that's about 500 schools disappearing.
And the third prediction follows those two by saying that the for-profit market for college education will account for 20% or more of college credits (not degrees) each year. That ties into prediction #1 about outside credits. We thought back in 2012 that MOOCs would make this happen. They peaked, leveled off, dropped some and are now coming back in a less "open" and free fashion. Some of the alternatives the article offers are quality virtual education in key content areas (for example, core courses in the social sciences), and others offering very specialized experiential learning programs (gap years; semesters abroad) with the focus on credits, not degrees.
Blount points to these firms (not colleges) as not needing the same infrastructure and other overhead typical of traditional higher education. This is not news colleges want to hear, but it is news they need to consider.
Blount points to NCES data, saying that for-profit degree providers currently register about one million students (7% of U.S. enrollments) each year. Despite a downturn among for-profit educators after a growth spurt from 1995-2010, private equity firms have been acquiring both struggling providers and long-time providers like DeVry University and the University of Phoenix and will take advantage of the market opportunity in offering credits.
Another prediction is that the gap between elites and non-elites in the college marketplace will only grow wider. Though high-demand schools won’t face the same pressure to accept outside credits, the boards and faculty at many of these schools will explicitly move to a three-year campus residency standard to create more slots for students.
Finally, they predict that former college campuses will be bought by companies to be used as sites for-profit education, senior living facilities, healthcare centers, corporate campuses, residential learning sites, camps, training facilities, etc. In March 2018 Bloomberg reported that Chinese companies have already purchased at least four campuses in New England.
And 5 conclusions:
- The restructuring of the U.S. higher education system is in motion
- Parents preparing to send children to college should make use of all opportunities available for your students to earn college credits while in high school or through a gap year experience between high school and college.
- Looking at a private college? Ask about their policies for granting college credit for prior coursework and early graduation options
- Schools should consider metropolitan settings for adjunct teaching talent and employment options for dual-career faculty couples, gaining scale and sharing costs through potential mergers, roll-ups and other consortia options.
- Be realistic about the coming headwinds and prepare to offer the best possible array of educational options for future students.