(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.)

Lots of interesting news and trend evolution over the past week, but I think the most interesting moves occurred in the higher education space.

For context, and for those who are new to the higher education universe, here are some general trends/forces that have been developing over the past decade.

  • College enrollments overall have been on the decline since 2012
  • Tuition prices and the overall costs associated with attending college have continued to rise
  • Attitudes about the value of a college degree have shifted
  • Attitudes about the purpose of a college degree have shifted away from intellectual formation to job attainment and professional success.
  • There is increasing competition among colleges and universities for student enrollment and dollars
  • Colleges and universities face increasing competition from alternative credentials and education pathways
  • Regional public and smaller private universities, to date, seem to face the greatest financial risks related to these trends

Using those broad trends as a filter gives us gerat insight into a K-12 survey released last week in which respondents, when asked about school priorities and purpose, ranked preparation for college or university nearly at the bottom of their priorities for schools: 47th out of 57 overall.

Instead, the findings show, Americans now want something very different from K-12 education: a concentrated focus on “practical, tangible skills” such as managing one’s personal finances, preparing meals and making appointments. Such outcomes now rank as Americans’ No. 1 educational priority.

A big contributor to this attitude (preparation for college ranked 10th in 2019)? The rising costs of college.

On a similar note, Jeff Selingo asks whether or not we’re seeing the end of higher education’s monopoly on the pathways to professional opportunity. Selingo points to a recent analysis of K-12 enrollment data by Stanford University and the Associated Press that “found that there were no records last school year for more than 240,000 school-age children living in 21 states and the District of Columbia, which provided recent enrollment details. These students didn’t move out of state, and they didn’t sign up for private school or home-school, according to publicly available data.“

Selingo writes:

For too long, we have thought about college as the next logical step after high school without always thinking why. And for millions of Americans it became the only next step when the manufacturing industry collapsed in the early 1980s, closing off a pathway for those who wanted good jobs without going right on to college.

Because the U.S. hasn’t designed legitimate and scalable alternatives to college, we often end up warehousing students at the age of 18 for a few years on college campuses who have no idea why they’re there or what they want to do next.”

As I mentioned earlier, these trends are posing financial challenges and causing many universities to rethink their models, audience, and offerings. As an example, Bryan Alexander points to cuts announced at Saint Leo University that include ending teaching at eight sites beyond the main campus: “Charleston, SC; Joint Base Charleston-Naval Weapons Station, SC; Columbus, MS; Corpus Christi, TX; and Jacksonville, Lake City, Ocala, and Mayport, FL.

Keep in mind that one of the long-held advantages of higher education institutions — regional and national accreditation that makes them eligible to provide student financial aid via Title IV funding — also presents regulatory hurdles that can prevent innovation and agile responsiveness to business and market trends. An example of this is the review process begun by the Department of Education that could mean big changes in the requirements for Third Party Services (TPS), which includes OPM providers and, potentially, a host of other service providers. Phil Hill’s follow-up post on potential applications and implications provides insight into the potential risks and difficulties of innovating through partnerships in higher education.

Not surprisingly, TPS provider 2U’s CEO responds that private companies are crucial to innovations at colleges and universities.

So, where is all of this headed? A couple of things seem likely to me. 

First, and in addition to the enduring attraction of elite private universities, I see a gradual bifurcation of interest in pursuing education after high school. There will always be a sector of the population that wants the full college experience, which will benefit large public universities. On the other hand, there will be an increasing number of students wanting to avoid the actual and opportunity cost of four years of college, and who choose alternative education pathways. This will benefit innovative online universities (ASU, SNU, Purdue Global, etc.), as well as large metropolitan-based community colleges offering robust catalogs of professional certificate programs. Private universities with strong niche loyalty (including faith-based universities) will do well in the short term, but many will likely close in the next 15-20 years. Finally, we will surely see the continued growth of alternative higher education entities that are designed specifically to address the needs of those choosing not to attend a university.

Have a great week, everybody!

Further Reading

Higher Education

Irked by Skyrocketing Costs, Fewer Americans See K-12 as Route to Higher Ed

Is Higher Ed’s ‘Monopoly on Opportunity’ Coming to an End? 

A queen sacrifice at Saint Leo University 

Education Department to review rules for online program providers

Did You See The Memo About the TPS Reports?

Lest I Understate The Issue

Why private companies are crucial to innovations in online education

Podcast–Redesigning the Community College Experience

Dual enrollment can be costly for community colleges

Worries run high about digital credentials’ expense, academic degrees’ relevance for STEM

Is DeSantis Right or Wrong? | Leadership in Higher Education


Irked by Skyrocketing Costs, Fewer Americans See K-12 as Route to Higher Ed

Innovative Micro-credentialing Initiatives Across The Nation: Three District Case Studies

OPINION: We can add ChatGPT to the latest list of concerns about student cheating, but let’s go deeper

By the Numbers: What’s behind public school enrollment declines?


The AI industrial revolution puts middle-class workers under threat this time

World Economic Forum

Online Learning, Learning Design, and Education Technology

Why private companies are crucial to innovations in online education

View of What are the indicators of Student Engagement in Learning Management Systems?

Three Ways to Make Distance Learning Actually Work 

Does ‘Flipped Learning’ Work? A New Analysis Dives Into the Research

Donald Clark Plan B: 7 ways to think and act strategically in your organisation about AI in learning

What causes a positive ROI?

Lessons Learned: Implementing Digital Badging Strategies

Worries run high about digital credentials’ expense, academic degrees’ relevance for STEM

To fight student disengagement, real-world projects can help

Survey: Top five barriers to student success

Technology and Culture

The new Bing & Edge – Learning from our first week

Apple headset announcement delayed until WWDC

Google vs Microsoft: The good, bad, and ugly of the AI arms race

Scripting News: ChatGPT clearly has a place

How To Navigate Raising Capital For Your Startup