What is the Future of Post-Secondary?

Increasing tuition, emerging data on demographics, and the surfacing of admissions scandals casts a long shadow of doubt over the ability of colleges and universities to prepare our students for the future. Couple this with the increasing speed of change in the exponential future, and we as high school educators must be attuned to this change in our already changing landscape.

To help attune ourselves, I recommend the following two articles – to read one after the other in no particular order.

1) Open Letter from the President of Purdue, Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. This was recommended to me by Grant Lichtman, internationally-recognized thought leader on the transformation of K-12 education, so I knew it was worth my time. In it, President Daniels lays out the changing landscape of Purdue, and then asks this questions: Worried yet?

And the answer for me is “yes”. Daniels’ letter is a provocative use of data to warn us all, not just those at Purdue, of the changing times. He cites that the University of Illinois has taken out a $4.2 million insurance policy against declining enrolment of international students, as the demand for aNorth American education is losing steam – for many reasons like the current White House administration, and growing competition from other post-secondary institutions. He too is worried and supports this with these observations:

 As these letters have mentioned before, more and more employers no longer require bachelor’s degrees in their hiring policies.  Google, Apple, Ernst & Young, IBM, and Penguin Random House are among them. Apprenticeship and job-specific skills training are attracting increasing attention and favor as alternatives to traditional college diplomas.

Given the questionable curricular rigor at too many colleges today, there is no reason to expect that trend to do anythin

g but grow.  It should surprise no one that emerging data is beginning to challenge the standard higher ed retort that “college graduates earn so much more”; that was very true yesterday and across the workforce today, but may not be predictive of the future in which today’s high school Americans will live.  One recent study found that more than 20% of recent graduates are “underemployed,” meaning working in jobs not requiring a college diploma, 10 full years after graduating.

So, with this side of the post-secondary future laid out, I then came across a recent article from The Atlantic, called “There’s More to College Than Getting Into College” by David Coleman. In it, he looks at the landscape through the lens of the user and asks “What kind of education is really worth investing in? What is it that students should be doing, not just to get into college, but to succeed there and live a good life after they graduate?”

This article is able to articulate why finding and listening to educators that you value, not the ones that are necessarily likeable, funny or an easy marker, but rather those that are engaging, that add urgency to their subject, and respect the dialogue of student and teacher. He writes about engagement something that is more and more becoming apparent: “Devotion to one or two activities—not several—advances you. Competition to get into college has metastasized into a race where more is better…Long lists cultivate busy mediocrity rather than sustained excellence.” And finally, he touches on why it is important to not only excel in a subject that you are good at, but also the perserve through difficult learning to find the beauty of the subject and what it can offer you, be it Math, Social Studies, Science. “The question is not whether you like or excel at a subject from the outset, but whether the subject is lovely and worth knowing. Loving to learn requires that you move beyond your initial distaste to discover a subject’s power.”

Finally, Where there is a connection between these two articles in the use of the term “Arms Race”.  Read these two quotations:
From President Daniels:The “amenities arms race” is still on.  Over the last decade, luxury residence halls, climbing walls, and lazy rivers captured the most attention.  Lately, the competition has moved on to — I’m not making this up — “concierge” services.  Students can make dinner reservations, arrange tickets for upcoming events, or get their cleaning and laundry done.  At a school that pioneered (if that’s the word) this concept, an official describes it as “a mother away from home” that does “anything a mother would do.”  Lest you think this development is limited strictly to pricey private schools, at least one major public, New Mexico State, now touts its own concierge program.
From The Atlantic:
As the CEO of the College Board, I see this arms race up close. We administer the SAT, a test that helps admissions officers assess the reading, writing, and math skills of students across the country and around the world. We also administer the Advanced Placement program, which helps students earn credit for college-level work they do while in high school. We know these tools to be useful, but we also see how they can contribute to the arms race.
To me, both of these quotations illustrate just how out-of-touch the post-secondary lived experience is with what we know the future might hold for our students.

To wrap this up, there is a dialogue between these two articles that, when taken together, reflects an increase in rate of change in how college’s and universities are being taken up in our society. From the institutional lens, tuition increases are unsustainable and the product position is shifting in the market. From the user experience, the urgency of a degree is decreasing, and the skills and mindsets to be ‘future-ready’ are no longer owned by colleges and universities. How might high school educators respond to these changes?


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