Happy? New year: five resolutions for higher education


The past week looked more like the 53rd week of the previous year than the first week of 2021. Our expectations for a new year, in which we can finally stop using the word “unprecedented”, have perhaps already been disappointed. But we can still resolve to make lasting and meaningful changes, especially in our approach to making opportunities accessible to all.

The covid-19 pandemic has forced much of higher education to rethink traditional approaches and explore new methods of learning and supporting students. But as vaccines raise our hopes of a return to normal, we must resist the urge to get back to business as usual. Indeed, as hope emerges on the covid-19 horizon, we must redouble our efforts to facilitate an economic recovery on behalf of the nearly 11 million unemployed Americans – and millions more whose life continues to be disrupted by the pandemic and its effects. Here are five New Year’s resolutions they need to commit to in higher education in 2021.

Measure yourself by who we help, not by who we exclude.

In an effort to improve perceived quality, schools apparently want low acceptance rates and jockey for recognition only admitting the most elite students. In an era of high and increasing skill intensity, this approach is counterproductive. Instead, higher education must be committed to honoring the potential of each individual. This means radical accessibility and accessibility, support for every learning path and a commitment to excellence in teaching and learning.

Put learners first.

As institutions, we have too often designed around our own priorities and convenience. We need to change the way we think and start asking ourselves, “What do students need?” The innovative institutions that make up the Presidents Forum are committed to ten Learners First principles that can drive new student-centered models in higher education, including Design for Fairness, Greater Relevance, Transparency and lifelong learning. Every higher education institution should follow.

Align learning with the needs of the workplace .

The world of work is changing rapidly and focusing more and more on skills. As Thomas Friedman writes, “We are moving towards a more skills-based world where there will be less interest in how you acquired the skill – in an online course, in a four-year college or in a class administered by the company – and more requests to prove you have mastered the skill. Employers don’t just want candidates with framed degrees, they want to know employees are ready to succeed. Higher education needs to adapt by matching skills and curricula and rigorously aligning learning goals with skills in demand.

Embrace a tech mindset.  

Most universities already offer online courses and have moved online learning in response to the pandemic – but much more needs to be done to realize the potential of online learning. Online learning can create opportunities for millions of Americans whose lives cannot accommodate fixed schedules and gatherings in physical locations. But technology can do even more – it can also enable personalized learning paces and paths, foster relationships, and drive student engagement. In a technological learning environment, data can inform about how content is consumed, where students are stuck, and how engagement with various educational materials boosts competence. Smart use of technology can help ensure that the right academic and personal supports are available at the right time, so that students persist, complete, and continue to thrive after graduation.

Provide small learning opportunities on demand.

College is often conceptualized as a coming-of-age experience, but this traditional paradigm falls short of what our economy needs, as well as the growing population of working adults who need it most. learning and training opportunities to access their next opportunity. Given the rapidly changing nature of work and the rapidly changing skills required to be successful in the workplace, we need to rethink higher education, not as a vaccine that inoculates us early in our careers, but as a vitamin that gives us resilience and strength to fight. the next opportunity and the next. This means that institutions need to move towards modularizing multi-year curricula and providing individuals with short, on-demand credentials to acquire the skills they need now.

In the coming year, many of our challenges remain, as does the urgent need to renew the promise of higher education. Driving an equitable recovery means that higher education must learn from the challenges presented during the pandemic, adapt our models, which were primarily designed to serve emerging adults in a single approach, and instead, must embrace a whole much more diverse needs. workers and align with the rapidly changing needs and opportunities of our future economy.

If our institutions cannot keep the needs of students – all students – in our sights, they will not prosper, just as no entity can last long if it does not create value for those it serves. .

In this New Year, students should be at the center of our thinking, planning and building like never before. This forces us to rethink our design principles, our models, our offerings and our measures of success. Higher education must put learners first and become the gateway to the opportunity they so desperately seek.


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