The Changing State of Higher Education

By Frank HealyFebruary 3, 2016

The higher education industry is in a state of flux. On the one hand, there is legislation that could shift the boundaries of higher education in response to changing student needs. On the other, technology continues to push the boundaries of what we’ve all come to know as college, degrees, and education in general.

Here are the three main areas that will push higher education forward in new ways this year.

The industry expected the Higher Education Act (HEA), the cornerstone of higher education legislation since 1965, to be reauthorized in 2015. It wasn’t. The act lapsed in 2013 and has left many key issues hanging in the balance, such as:

  • Affordability
  • Accessibility
  • Completion
  • Transparency
  • Innovation
  • Grants and tuition assistance
  • Accreditation reform
  • Student loan system
  • Federal regulations

The pressure continues to mount as student debt takes center stage and higher education becomes seemingly more out of reach for some. In fact, recent data from the Obama administration shows more than 33 percent of borrowers failed to make payments on student loans within three years. This issue has ignited a few central conversations in Washington:

  • Should colleges be held more accountable for student outcomes?
  • How can federal higher ed data be improved?
  • What should be the new standards for academic quality and student success?

As an election year, it’s possible that the industry won’t see movement on the HEA until the new presidency in 2017. Change is on the horizon; it’s just a matter of when.

Big Data
Big Data will continue to make processes smarter and more strategic. Predictive analytics offer a wealth of information about student outcomes and will impact admissions in two main ways:

  • A student’s chances of being accepted
  • The institution’s chances of retaining that student

With enrollments dropping another 1.7 percent in 2015, retention rates are top of mind for many higher education institutions. Big Data will play a key role here and be used to reveal overarching student trends and highlight gaps in long-term college processes. Such insights lead to new best practices, which can help students maintain a more successful college path and, in turn, produce higher retention rates.

Big Data will also impact e-learning. In addition to personalizing programs to meet unique needs, insights from Big Data can help shape end-user experiences and help students maintain momentum throughout coursework.

E-learning, in and of itself, will also become a bigger niche and could have industry wide effects.

One indicator of growth is the movement seen in the business community. Just take a look at LinkedIn’s $1.5 billion purchase of e-learning platform in 2015. It’s one of the top five biggest social media acquisitions, and it speaks volumes to where the industry is headed. Online learning may soon become a part of our social footprint and play an ongoing role in career paths.

E-learning continues to transform in response to advances in technology. Some students are even embracing “m-learning,” or mobile learning, formats. In fact, 50 percent of Coursera’s 17 million users utilize mobile devices to participate in their programs. Higher education on the go falls in line with other current technology trends and might offer unprecedented benefits to users. There’s the opportunity for higher ed students to learn in “real world” environments, which adds context to its material.  

The combination of new legislation and advancements in technology will undoubtedly lead to innovation in the higher education space. Overall, the changes should prove positive for students and present more opportunities than challenges for institutions. 

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