(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 and technology.)

The big news this past week came in the form of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s latest report on U.S. college enrollments. The center’s executive director, Doug Shapiro said, “I am surprised that it seems to be getting worse. I thought that we would start to see some of these declines begin to shrink a little bit this term.” But, in reality, the latest drop is simply another data point in a decade-long trend of declining college enrollments. Phil Hill provides a nice snapshot of trends by institution sector combining data from the National Student Clearinghouse and IPEDs.

While COVID has certainly accelerated the decline in the past couple of years, the trend has been in place since 2012 and has significant financial consequences across higher education. Small private institutions (like Hannibal-LaGrange University), regional public universities, and community colleges are particularly at-risk.

What I see in all of this is a deep questioning of what education the average person needs to have a successful career.

The U.S. higher education system took on its modern shape post-WWII with the passing of the G.I. Bill, which provided important benefits, including education benefits, to military personnel. As colleges and universities expanded, in terms of enrollments and degree programs, employers eventually defaulted to the 4-year degree as the foundational credential required to enter most professional careers (by the early 70s).

50 years later, we seem to be experiencing something of a public referendum related to the 4-year degree. While the financial cost of a college degree is definitely a factor for some people who choose not to enroll, it seems that two other factors may weigh even more heavily — time and skills.

A couple of questions people seem to be asking.

Time. Flexibility. Demonstrable proof of job-related skills. Education that is focused on specific careers and jobs. Education that delivers on promises of career outcomes — financial, quality of life, long-term stability — and provides a clear and supported pipeline to employment. Whether we like the change in direction or not, these are the things that matter increasingly to people in the U.S. seeking higher education. And any higher ed institutions that don’t have a big brand will need to make these things a primary focus if they want to survive and thrive.

Further Reading

Higher Education

Colleges reinstitute mask mandates amid coronavirus case spikes

Combined US Higher Education Enrollment Fall 2012 – Spring 2022

American higher education enrollment declined again, continuing a decade-long trend

Undergraduate enrollment falls 4.7% this spring

Young Americans and those with debt see less value in college

What 3 Charts Can Tell Us About College Graduation Trends

Exigency leads to layoffs at Hannibal-LaGrange University

Morgan State University created a college to re-enroll college dropouts

Fast-tracking associate degrees for students in need

State of Continuing Education 2022: How Higher Ed Can Compete With Silicon Valley

Polarizing hire at Morehouse College sparks controversy

K-12 Education

Why Even Oklahoma Couldn’t Pass a School Voucher Bill

Gates Foundation pushes to scale dual enrollment and early college

Education, Educational Technology, and Learning Design

Facebook Working on a Udemy Competitor?

Innovation in Higher Education. Wait, what?

Zovio sells tutoring services business for $55M


Hybrid Work Has ‘No Right Answer,’ Top Staffing Firms Warn

Technology and Culture

The metaverse: A huge network and connectivity challenge

How DAOs will transform the future of Web3

To evolve, AI must face its limitations

Tim Sweeney: Epic will fight Apple and Google to keep the metaverse open

Apple Is Raising Base Pay to $22 an Hour As Workers Unionize