[NOTE: Karen Holbrook is regional chancellor of the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. She is a Founding Advisory Board Member of The Sarasota Institute and has been a part of the program committee for “An Educated Person in 2035” the first Symposium of the Institute’s inaugural year 2020. To learn more about the day-long symposium Karen mentions in the column below, please click here
Higher education is a 1,000-year-old enterprise and many universities have persisted nearly that long.
What other venture has such longevity and with relatively little change? Think of the relatively short life span of companies — even of major corporations (Sears, Blockbuster, Kodak, Pan Am, and Enron) — and restaurants. Something is right about universities, but this doesn’t mean there won’t be, or doesn’t need to be, change.
A day-long seminar is being planned by the Sarasota Institute on Jan. 18 that will closely examine the future of education in the 21 st century with a focus on envisioning an educated person in 2035. But, we are far from the only ones considering this topic.
In 2018, Georgia Tech’s Commission on Creating the Next in Education, #GT 2040, published Deliberate Innovation, Lifetime Education. The foreword of the document begins with the statement, “In 40 years in academia, I have never experienced a faster pace of change. I am convinced that the future belongs to those institutions that are nimble enough to stay in front of the wave of change and, more importantly help define what will be the next in education.” The document is a commitment to lifetime education.
Education is a continuum, not starting and stopping at specific intervals, but an ongoing process in which students will progress at an appropriate pace for their learning ability, economic status and opportunities available to them.
A second article, “Preparing a Traditional University for the 60-Year Curriculum” by Josh Herron of Anderson University, also focuses on continuous learning for a new workforce and the need to rethink education as a challenge for universities. This work expands upon the University of Washington’s Continuum College, the Harvard Extension School and the OECD (International Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) “Future of Education and Skills 2030,” and aims to build a common understanding of the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that students need in the 21st Century — based upon information shared by students.
Reviewing these materials reminded me that in 2012, I gave opening remarks at “Going Global,” a meeting held at the British Council in London, before leading a workshop on the Future of Higher Education. My comments were intended to trigger discussion, perhaps even debate, about what the university might be like 10 to 30 years in the future and about participation in our own futures. Our roles could well be very different than they are today, we might be engaging different players as instructors and offering education to a panoply of students, at lesser cost, in an environment that may be more compatible with life styles and life stages.
I began my remarks with a provocative quote: “Universities have become nothing more than very expensive coffee shops. Much of what they provide can be replicated in other places, online or through new platforms.” While universities can certainly argue against that statement and defend the value of what is offered, we can also seriously ask whether our bricks and mortar are monuments to the past and the new technologies and communication strategies are gateways to the future? Are unique partnerships keys to education strategies for a lifetime?
An undergraduate experience has changed from the time when I was an undergraduate and the primary goal was to obtain an education that would set the stage for a future, but not necessarily for a specific career, to today’s goals for an undergraduate to select a major — preferably one of “strategic emphasis” — complete the course work and graduate without additional credits within four years (or fewer) to avoid the added cost of deviating from the degree curriculum. This leaves students with little opportunity for experimentation in non-major subjects, which has always seemed to be valuable in an education. Today, however, internships and other experiential activities in which students are engaged offer opportunities for hands-on experimentation in one or more real work environments.
One might ponder several issues about education in the context of today’s environment: Everything is without borders, competition and collaboration are global, universities have metastasized around the world in various forms and with new partners, rising economies are investing in education at an unprecedented rate and with partners outside of their own countries which will occupy their educational space. Disciplines are merging, countries are changing and new technologies (artificial intelligence, machine learning, the internet of things, blockchain, etc.) are changing — even eliminating — existing jobs and creating the need for a different kind of workforce. The costs of education are continually increasing while education is becoming more personalized and flexible in terms of delivery.
Student demographics are different, life spans have become extended suggesting education must become continuous, and learning is as much about how to learn as it is about assimilating knowledge that will rapidly become obsolete, irrelevant or wrong. And, who are (and will be) the faculty — those with traditional academic credentials or those with other skills and backgrounds as well? How flexible and nimble are our universities to accommodate these changes and what are their long-term academic relationships with a student?
Could there be a new paradigm for sustained education over a lifetime that could come in “chunks” that are relevant to current needs, desires or workplace demands? All of us can think of new roles or jobs we have taken on for which we would have valued some form of learning experience, rather than learning on the job. Most of us would benefit from renewal of our skills that would keep us updated as jobs and careers change. The Georgia Tech document calls this “episodic learning.”
Could these aliquots of education, or even longer periods of education, be “brokered” by your university or by a new Google-like university that could connect you, your current needs, location and time scale demands? Could these be serious educational units which are evaluated and for which “points” or “badges” or “certificates” are awarded and contribute to your portfolio? If properly evaluated and managed could these educational units, “stackable certificates,” lead to a degree? Are degrees still the gold standard credential and/or are they even essential? Who would be the players in these education experiences and how would their programs be credentialed?
These are no longer novel ideas but rather “disruptive” changes that we are experiencing today. The rapidly changing future of education is a significant agenda for community leaders, especially those charged with leading academia’s future at all levels. Many of the schools in the Sarasota-Manatee area are already preparing students for a very different future — starting in elementary school and continuing through high school — and pressuring universities to change the question we used to ask from “Are students ready for college?” to “Are the colleges ready for the student?” I hope you will join me and others in considering this topic at the Sarasota Institute on January 18.