(Looking Back and Looking Forward takes a look at the articles and posts I found interesting from the previous week, along with reflections about how the trends they point to might shape my thinking about education, technology, and culture.)
Long before cryptocurrencies, magical thinking related to specific markets was alive and well in higher education. From the late 1960s through the beginning of the last decade, boomer-related population expansion coupled with employers defaulting to the bachelor’s degree as an entry-level credential for professional positions made the higher education market appear to be a fountain of perpetual growth and expansion.
But as they say, that was then and this is now. A multi-year decline in undergraduate enrollments, increased competition among colleges and universities, and rapidly evolving job roles and employment trends have brought hard financial times to a growing number of institutions, the latest of these being Cabrini University.
As Bryan Alexander explained in his post, Cabrini is responding to financial exigencies by cutting approximately 9% of their full-time faculty across writing and narrative arts, science, math, and visual and performing arts.
Why these cuts? The campus faces a $5-6 million deficit, which looks like it was driven by a shocking enrollment drop, “from 2,360 in 2016 to approximately 1,500,” according to Diverse Issues in Higher Education.
Cabrini has been having problems for years. Back in 2021, the university led an even larger queen sacrifice, “eliminat[ing] 46 positions and cut[ting] or chang[ing] 15 of its 69 programs.”
Financial difficulties are affecting an increasing number of smaller institutions. Inside Higher Ed reported this week that Presentation College was joining a growing list of colleges that are calling it quits.
While many of the colleges that announced closures last year cited the coronavirus, in part, for putting them out of business, experts note that federal government funding during the COVID-19 pandemic may have kept many institutions alive. Now that the spigot of federal relief funds has been shut off, higher education observers believe that other embattled institutions may ultimately succumb to closure, a path that many were on prior to the pandemic.
And in a higher education world divided into haves and have-nots, analysts see particularly choppy waters ahead for nonselective private nonprofit institutions and increased operational challenges for underfunded regional public universities.
One contributor to the difficulties facing some colleges and universities is the rising costs of production (the costs associated with delivering education), which has led to increased tuition prices for students. Bruce Kimball and Sarah Iler discuss these trends in depth in their new book, Wealth, Cost, and Price in American Higher Education, and provide a good overview in this webinar.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there remained a good bit of discussion last week around AI/ChatGPT and its impact on education. The discussion shifted somewhat to designing new assessment/assignment solutions as opposed to banning the technology outright. Some universities are giving serious consideration to how they structure and assess student assignments while others are focusing on new assessment designs (see here, here, and here). To put this into a historical perspective, the initial knee-jerk reactions and subsequent level-headed calls for improvements in assessment design are much like those focused on previous technological innovations, such as laptop graphing calculators, laptop computers, the Internet, and smartphones.
Speaking of smartphones and graphing calculators… Researchers at market analyst firm Canalys are forecasting little growth in the sector for 2023 while a Stanford economist says that ChatGPT will be like the calculator for writing.
Generative AI technologies will certainly be a part of Microsoft’s future, as the company has announced a sizable investment in OpenAI. Microsoft will make the technologies available to companies and developers via Azure, and will also begin integration of generative AI capabilities into its Office products.
On a final and much less practical note, I enjoyed this post about generative AI (primarily ChatGPT, in this instance) and its eventual impacct on language. In response to the statement, “ChatGPT can be a useful tool in linguistic research, but it is not a replacement for human language expertise and understanding of the complexities of human language,” I would simply add the word “yet.” Restated, it is not a replacement for human language expertise and understanding of the complexities of human language, yet.
Online Learning, Learning Design, and Education Technology
Technology and Culture