Experts suggest 2013 will see higher education working to "re-tool" their programs to fill the skills gap that currently exists.
The promise of a new year on the horizon brings with it a sense of new beginnings. People who spent a bit too much time indulging in holiday cookies see the New Year as a fresh start to a weight loss program. Others view a not-yet-marked new year as an opportunity to begin new ventures.
Well, that feeling of squeaky clean "newness" is not lost in the realm of higher education either. Educators, students and administrators all view a new year as a sign of potential for what's to come, whether its advancements in educational technology or funding for a particular program.
Recognizing the Skills Gap
In particular, said Dr. John Ebersole, President of Excelsior College, higher education is looking at five major game-changers for 2013:
- Cost containment
- The skills gap
- The role of accreditation
- Re-authorization of the Higher Ed Act and increased regulation
"President Obama has focused attention on the cost of college and the rate at which tuition is rising," Ebersole said. "Several states are also attempting to contain such growth, while simultaneously shifting more and more tax support away from our public institutions. Efforts to compel greater efficiency from leaders in higher education are underway and likely to come by way of Congress with new requirements for participation in future federal funding programs."
Ebersole said he is also confident 2013 will bring an effort on the part of higher education to "re-tool" their programs in order to fill the skills gap that currently exists in today's society. This is especially a result of the fact that employers point to three million vacant jobs, at a time of high unemployment, as "evidence of higher education’s failure to meet the needs of our economy," Ebersole said.
"In return, higher education will be asking employers to increase their tuition assistance and to promote such post traditional cost savers as credit by exam and American Council on Education review of internal training," he said.
The Role of MOOCs
Ebersole said, however, the tipping point in education arrived in the fall of 2012 in the form of MOOCs (massive open online courses). "As recognizable institutions compete to introduce ‘the next’ massive enrollment course, online learning has now reached a higher level of acceptance and credibility –– regardless of other institutions who have been in the market for more than 25 years," Ebersole said.
"This impact continues to ripple through the halls of academia as questions are being raised about the types of supported credentials, including:
- Whether, if and/or how academic credit should be awarded for these programs
- The role of accreditation
- MOOCs use for alternative, employer-focused purposes, regardless of higher education recognition
"The accreditation community, regionally and nationally, is currently pondering the role MOOCs might serve in delivering degree worthy instruction and how such determinations should be made," Ebersole said. "Additionally, there is discussion to the effect that accreditation is irrelevant to instruction provided strictly for professional and employer purposes ... this could diminish the value of MOOCs for academic purposes."
Like Ebersole, Wayne Smutz, Ph.D., executive director of the Penn State World Campus and associate vice president for Academic Outreach, said the appeal of MOOCs was not lost on the world of higher education as 2013 progresses.
"MOOCs represent a different kind of opportunity," he said. "For those who are unemployed and want to develop new knowledge or skills for which they do not need to have a document proving that they completed a course of study, a MOOC can be the way to go." Smutz said, although credit is not currently being offered for having participated in an MOOC, it appears changes may soon be on the way as a result of "third party players expressing willingness to provide an assessment of the content person studied on the MOOC."
This would, of course, require a number of steps –– including guidelines for employers to learn how to recognize these courses as legitimate –– that are currently not available as a result of unavailable. "However, since MOOCs are such a new phenomenon, all of this could change rapidly," Smutz said.
Gadgets and Technology
As for new technologies that are on the horizon and may be useful to the higher education crowd, here are three favorites:
In an effort to recognize the rising popularity of MOOCs, the folks at GoingOn Networks created Massively Open Online Networks (MOONs), social networks that are created around a MOOC. These networks are specifically for higher education, allowing students to connect and collaborate with other classmates, alumni, and professors to discuss curricular and co-curricular topics.
"MOOCS are very lonely places and studies show that only three percent to five percent of students actually finish them," said Jennifer Borun, Senior Marketing Director at GoingOn Networks, referring to a recent study by the group. "The main reason is a lack of social interaction; students cannot ask questions in real-time or hold meaningful discussions around topics as they can in a physical classroom."
No matter the student, it's not always easy to find interest in a particular subject or the will to study for an exam, but that's why Youtopia was created. The student engagement platform provides instant access to plug-and-play gamification tools –– think points, badges, and leader boards –– that incentivizes students to become more engaged in their school and their community throughout college and beyond. The tool can also be used by educators as a method for inspiring students to do work and rewarding them for a job well done.
- Modern Guild
A site built to help connect higher education institutions with career planners, Modern Guild flies by the motto "Apprenticeship Evolved." With the program, college students work through an online, three-part career prep curriculum led by professional career counselors and industry-specific job experts who help them find the career that best suits their skill sets. "It used to be college was a place for kids to mature and to discover knew interests," said founder Adrien Fraise. "But now, with tuitions skyrocketing and unemployment rates high, parents and students now demand more from their schools than professorial eminence and fancy student unions –– they want good careers."
- Experts suggest 2013 will see higher education working to "re-tool" their programs to fill the skills gap that currently exists.
- MOOCs will continue to get attention with potential to receive accreditation and be considered for course credit.
- Technological advancements will recognize the need for students to undergo career preparation with new tools, like Modern Guild's site.