Medium 9781942496359

<p>Gearing Up for Learning Beyond K--12</p>

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Changing technologies—as well as demographics, economics, and education policies—are rapidly transforming higher education. This short, reader-friendly book explores current trends in postsecondary education and focuses on developments most likely to impact its future. The author analyzes why we must rethink our understanding of life beyond high school to better prepare students for careers, further education, and economic prosperity.

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Chapter 1: After the Technological Tsunami

ePub

Chapter 1

After the Technological Tsunami

What is technology doing to higher education?

To understand its impact, it is best to imagine a predigital university classroom in its full, nearly nostalgic glory. Let us choose the preweb date of 1985. Consider a seminar, where a professor leads a small class of a dozen or twenty students in the exploration of archaeology or Russian history. That professor is older, probably male, most likely white, and either tenured or fighting hard to get on the tenure track. He uses a chalkboard to scrawl notes, working from papers and print books. The students (tending to be around twenty years old, male, mostly white) take notes on paper using pen or pencil. Discussion happens out loud. (Andrew Delbanco [2012] offers another good example of such a historical, even nostalgic vision in College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be.)

Or imagine the classic lecture hall, where the same sort of faculty member holds forth in a cavernous space containing hundreds of students. The professor might use an overhead projector and acetate-based transparencies. The flow of information is mostly one way as the professor describes principles of biology or British literature. Once more, those students take notes (or should have been doing so) with the technologies of paper and pen.

 

Chapter 2: The World and the Campus

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Chapter 2

The World and the Campus

To understand the nontechnological forces coming to bear on higher education, we can return to the nostalgic image that opened chapter 1. Recall the pre–World Wide Web classrooms of professor and students. Lectures and discussions, lab work, and music practice occurred with analog, not digital, technologies. Faculty tended to be tenure track. Students tended to be white males. The typical student age was eighteen to twenty-two years old.

The situation has changed somewhat, and is likely to change still further in the medium-term future. Now we can turn to the remaining STEEP factors, the social, technological, economic, environmental, and political currents of change. We have already addressed technology in chapter 1; now we consider the other factors.

We can begin with the social dimension and start with demographics. Predicting the future is usually a tricky proposition at best, but population patterns offer one of the least chaotic guides to what comes next. Demographic changes are often long term, due to the extreme unlikelihood of altering basic details for populations in the tens or hundreds of millions. We can extrapolate demographics with greater confidence than, say, technological or cultural trends.

 

Chapter 3: Peak Campus

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Chapter 3

Peak Campus

Now that we have covered a variety of trends impacting higher education, from technology to economics and politics, we can select and combine a group of them that interact with each other to form a kind of megatrend. For this chapter we can pull together forces that suggest a smaller future for academics in the United States, following an experience akin to the 2008 housing bubble: peak higher education.

When I first wrote about this megatrend, the concept seemed somewhat perverse (Alexander, 2013, 2014a, 2014b). It was five years after the terrible financial crash of 2008, which kicked off what many call the Great Recession and clobbered many campuses’ finances. Recovery had been under way, though, with endowments returning, charitable donations rising, and institutional cash flows largely resurrected. Very fiscally conservative, austere education spending strategies that had taken hold of state and federal governments had elicited opposition and active dislike, leading North Dakota and California to start reinvesting in their public universities. The economic argument for higher education—the college premium of a lifetime earning boost due to receiving a degree—was still popular. Also popular was American higher education abroad, as more international students continued to arrive on this country’s campuses, even after the War on Terror’s tightened travel restrictions. Casting a pall over this view must have seemed willfully obtuse, even offensive.

 

Chapter 4: College After Campuses

ePub

Chapter 4

College After Campuses

Is it possible to learn at a university level without attending a campus?

It is certainly doable, and the options for this kind of learning are growing. But we should start our examination of this idea by looking at rationale, rather than method. Why would one pursue advanced learning off-campus?

Adult learners offer the first answer. These nontraditional students often have to juggle competing schedules and demands in order to make it to physical classes. Many have dependents, partners, or others to care for. Some (a decreasing amount, given workforce participation trends) have jobs, and their work schedules may not easily accommodate additional demands. After all, classes and transportation may take up a significant amount of time. Full-time or even part-time education simply might not fit.

The other demands of the traditional brick-and-mortar college may also present a bad fit for adults. Politicians and academic leaders present higher education as a reskilling opportunity for underemployed, unemployed, or simply ambitious adults, but campuses do not necessarily meet those needs. For example, professionally minded adults may resist an undergraduate core curriculum as extraneous to their needs. Others may value a narrow curricular band within a larger set of requirements, and wanting only the former, resent the latter. Moreover, older learners may feel awkward around younger students, based on life-stage differences.

 

Chapter 5: Campus of the Future

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Chapter 5

Campus of the Future

The world of postsecondary education is clearly changing in key ways, offering new opportunities that were not available a generation ago. How can we best prepare ourselves for these options? By we, I’d like to consider high school students and their families, adult learners, taxpayers who help fund public education, secondary school teachers, policymakers, and voters.

To begin, many preparatory strategies seem likely to still be valuable. For traditional-age students, developing a fine academic record and extracurricular portfolio still makes sense, especially if applying to a physical campus. Policymakers and voters continue to need to scrutinize public education finances and structures. Teachers and parents are required to teach critical thinking and soft skills of interpersonal relations and socialization. Researching postsecondary learning venues is perhaps more valuable than ever, given the diversity of new options and possible threats to the old.

 

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