As in any market, the importance of “relevance” in higher education. Strada Education Network, an American non-profit, is building the largest database of “consumer insights on educational experiences after high school” in the US. The intent is simple: as most economic sectors have now become tuned to consumer experiences in order to adapt their products to customers, so should higher education collect insights from population segments with a college experience with a view to finetuning the higher education offer to student-consumer needs. In partnership with Gallup, Strada Education Network has thus surveyed over 250,000 college-educated Americans since 2016. The results show that the main motivation for a majority of those attending university is the prospect of a job (58% in general, 85% among freshmen). To most of those surveyed, what makes the quality of higher education is primarily the relevance of its contents to their professional and daily lives. Yet only 26% of respondents find that to be the case with their own education experience. The report published on the study by Strada Education Network assesses that “education consumer” ratings of relevance are the strongest predictor of quality and value, including in the perception of students and alumni – more than other measures found in college rankings. In addition, the survey finds that there is a clear correlation between the perception of relevance and the overall sense of wellbeing among respondents. When relevance is considered by field of study, STEM fields come out on top with 38%, while business and public service both stand at 25% and liberal arts come last with 22%. The study is ongoing, but Strada Education Network already provides a few guidelines, such as the need to make learning exciting, develop quality career advising and mentoring, and include more work experiences in the curricula. From College to Life: Relevance and the Value of Higher Education, Strada Education Network-Gallup, May 2018.
Not all agree that a “robot-proofing” education is a realistic prospect. Many have argued that specific sets of skills, in particular soft skills (creativity, empathy, interpersonal communication, cognitive flexibility), will be crucial to navigating the labor market of tomorrow, and that higher education, alongside STEM fields, should invest in training students in them. This combination is broadly looked upon as the formula that will provide a “robot-proof” education to the young generation – a standpoint echoed by the World Economic Forum. One dissenting view, expressed in Future Tense, relies on the ahistorical character of such a premise, grounded in the fact that machines have always taken over tasks that humans believed could not be performed by machines. Added to the economic argument that automation and robotization save companies money, this, in the authors’ view, does not bode well for the “robot-proofing” education of tomorrow. It is indeed impossible to predict what types of jobs will be in demand 15 or 30 years from now, and there is no guarantee that these supposedly robot-proof skills can actually be taught, let alone by institutions of higher learning, which have not traditionally specialized in cultivating them among students. Perhaps, the authors conclude, we should reflect instead on what a “post-work” era would be like and how we will cope with the deep lifestyle transformations this will entail for us. There’s No Such Thing as “Robot-Proofing”, Future Tense, March 27, 2019.
Diktat of metrics and competitiveness in the higher education market vs. the public-service mission of universities. In a thoughtful essay published in Times Higher Education, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, director of digital humanities and professor of English at Michigan State University, examines the tension between the imperatives of a marketized higher education and the “higher purpose” of universities, i.e. placing public service at the core of their mission. While some competitiveness, she argues, can prompt all institutions to strive toward improvement, the logic of the market that increasingly dominates higher education and relies on metrics – ranking, the pressure of generating revenue, the volume and scope of published research in the most prestigious journals , etc. – is transforming universities into “credential-producing machines”, often pitting departments and faculty members within a single institution against one another in the pursuit of enrollment and funding. As a result, administrative staff and academics alike are compelled to abide by values that are no longer in sync with the goal of producing, advancing and sharing knowledge for its own sake. Instead, Fitzpatrick wonders what would happen if universities engaged collectively in rethinking their grand purpose as a sector. This might involve a change in the measurement of excellence and success: less reliance on the quantitative approach of metrics and market standards, and more focus on the fundamental values that should be the true – qualitative – indicators of excellence and success, e.g. “equity, openness, public engagement”. In summary, Fitzpatrick advocates a shift from the competitive to the collective in the service of a common good that would have to be reinvented. For the greater good, Times Higher Education, 11 April 2019.
More non-profit universities will develop their online offer in the US. Following the discredit that a series of scandals has cast on for-profit institutions of higher education in the US, public and private non-profit universities are looking to increase their online programs – a sector in which relatively few of them have been markedly active thus far. A Moody’s study on the future growth of online higher education finds that enrolment continues to grow faster on line than on campus and assesses that in the coming years the trend of online programs offered by public universities, which together already hold the largest share of online enrolment, will continue to increase. The issue is particular acute in New England, which faces the lowest fertility rate in the US. Moody’s has identified the population segment of older workers with some college education but no degree as a potential resource that could offset the demographic loss in college-age youths across the US, in light of the growing need for retraining expected to develop as a result of changes in the labor market. US public universities eye big move into online education, Times Higher Education, 18 April 2019.