The future of higher education: what it means for students and teachers


“The idea that at 22 you can graduate and be ready for a career has become as old-fashioned as the pocket watch.”

—Jeffrey R. Brown, Dean of the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois, from his position paper: “It’s Time to Transform Higher Education”

  • How do we prepare students and employees for jobs that don’t even exist yet?
  • For challenges we can’t even imagine?
  • To compete in industries and with business models that haven’t even been invented yet?

Higher education is facing one of the greatest periods of unknowns in recent history. There is not a single person or aspect of education that has not been completely shaken by the pandemic.

But that is not the only source of uncertainty. Technology changes so quickly that the skills we master in school are constantly changing and become obsolete within a few years. Some of the most exciting career opportunities may be for positions that don’t even exist yet in industries we can’t even imagine.

We need to recognize the pace at which technology is evolving and the extent to which the traditional model limits access to education. Higher education experts suggest that education should look less structured and allow for more variety: calls for new paths, multiple streams, a wider range of references – so that people can retrain where needed and immediately apply those skills. able to put in work.

One of those experts is Jeffrey R. Brown, dean of the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois, author of this report, “It’s Time to Transform Higher Education.”

He argues that to fully embrace their mission, higher education institutions and educators need to think differently about the range of educational “products” they offer. In his report, he calls for “new forms of content delivery, new ways of assessing learning, and new ways of certifying that a learner has mastered different concepts and skills.”

I had a conversation with him to further develop those ideas. He started with a reminder of the original purpose of higher education.

“If we go back to classical, liberal education, the idea was to make us more rational, thoughtful and informed citizens,” he said. “And that benefits not only the individual receiving the education, but also society in general — to teach us that there is a bigger world, to think about the world’s problems.”

Higher education used to be a luxury for a small segment of society, but it has become more of a necessity for people to thrive, provide for their families and solve the world’s major problems. He said there is still a role for traditional education, but what we also need today is lifelong skills-based training that is available to people at any point in their lives.

“That’s the transformation that needs to happen,” Brown said. “We’re working with a very old model, and that old model doesn’t match the needs of today’s citizen very well.”

He outlined three main ways in which higher education should evolve.

Transformation in higher education: 3 ways to make it more accessible, lifelong and skills-based

1. The future of higher education is democratized. He wants to democratize education by using technology.

“We need to use technology to expand our educational offering to make it cheaper, to bypass people’s work and family lives, and to reach people who are not fortunate enough to live in an area where they have access to top scientists and top universities. ”

2. The future of higher education is individualized. Once you work at scale and with technology, you can individualize education. He recommends expanding our idea of ​​what types of credentials are valued — going beyond the four-year course to include sub-degrees or less intensive credentials, certificates, or digital badges. Some people don’t necessarily have to spend two years earning an MBA, but they can benefit from learning the very latest materials in business, finance, or analysis. There must be recognized references for this.

“Perhaps it will be enough for me to take three courses in these areas that I really need right now to reach that next level of excellence in my current job. I can align my educational needs with where I am in my life, where I am in my career.”

3. The future of higher education is accessible. He talked about removing the many barriers that exist for people to get the education they want. Those barriers could be that it’s too expensive, that they have a family and a full-time job, or that there aren’t good schools within 50 miles of their home. Leaders can break down those barriers with intentional design.

“We’ve tried to design our program not just in terms of your ability to choose content, but with some scheduling flexibility to accommodate when you can hop in and out — to really make it more accessible.”

Listen to our conversation below for more insights into the future of higher education.

Future generations and higher education: students must lead the way

I have a seven-year-old daughter, so I asked Brown, what will the higher education experience look like for her?

“Kids need to learn to learn in multiple environments,” he said. “I know that the pandemic was a painful time for many school-aged children. But they will have to learn to navigate in a world where they have face-to-face interaction, online interaction and, increasingly, virtual interactions – using augmented or virtual reality. Getting exposure to a wide variety of learning modalities, in addition to a wide variety of fields and materials, will be very important. ”

Leaders in higher education, take note: change is coming whether you’re ready or not. As Brown put it, “You basically have three choices. You can lead. You can be a very fast follower. Or you can become irrelevant.”

Higher education has gone through the ring in recent years. Make sure you don’t simply rebuild what you’ve been doing since the 17th century and miss your chance to evolve.

“What makes a great leader today is the ability to tolerate and even welcome an unknown future,” said Wendy York, dean of Clemson’s Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business.

Are you ready to adapt? If you can’t change your attitude, how can you claim the ability to shape the next generation of leaders society needs?

To learn more about how leaders are preparing for the future of higher education, register for free for the virtual version of the 2022 Leadership in the Age of Personalization Summit hosted by Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business from Clemson University on Oct. 14.