Changing The Future of Higher Education, One Online Degree At A Time

For hundreds of years, students have gathered in specific places of education to learn new things and find direction in life. But changing times have brought about tremendous upgrades in the way knowledge passes on from teachers to students.

In February 2016, 28% of all college students in the US took at least one course online, according to the Babson Survey Research Group. Many universities are now offering complete degree programs online, opening up all kinds of possibilities for students around the world.

The Current Situation

The current higher education model of lecturing and examination has barely changed over centuries. However, now, the model is being disrupted – by two major factors:

Rising Costs: Colleges today face a severe funding crisis as the costs of operations are increasing exponentially. This is mainly due to pricey investments in technology, higher teachers’ salaries and rising administrative expenses. On top of it all, the substantial decrease in government funding means that higher education will only become more expensive. Universities have passed on most of their rising costs on to students. According to The Economist, fees in private, non-profit universities in the country increased by 28% in real terms in the ten years up to 2012. Public universities have also increased their fees by 27% in the five years leading up to 2012. The American student debt is rising at a fast rate, adding up to more than $1.2 trillion. And while this debt seemed worth it for a long period of time, now students are beginning to reconsider its long term utility and overall expense.

The timing for rising costs couldn’t have been worse for the education industry. All around the world, a genuine need for continuing education and retraining is increasing for workers of all age groups. Thanks to globalization and large scale automation, the demand for middle level education jobs has fallen with an increasing number of basic jobs now requiring higher qualifications.

Technological Revolution: The large scale and easy availability of smartphones, iPads and high speed internet have completely changed the future outlook for the world of education. The effects of this revolution can be determined by three major technological factors:

  • Broadband: The rise of broadband internet, as opposed to traditional dial-up connections have provided for better connectivity. This has resulted in people spending more of their time on the internet, performing more activities.
  • Mobile Devices: First came the cell phones, followed closely by the Smartphones and tablet computers. The greater mobile connectivity generated through these mobile devices made it a reality for a large number of people to access information anytime and anywhere. These devices have completely revolutionized the way in which people now communicate with each other and how they allocate their time and attention.
  • Social Media: The dramatic increase in social platforms has made it easier for people from all across the world to get in touch with each other. It has made networking easier and resulted in overall bigger and more diverse social circles. Thanks to social media, the traditional boundaries between home, work, private and public are now blurred to create room for a larger and more inclusive community.

The Future of Higher Education

What does this technology revolution and rising cost mean for the future of higher education? One likely answer is online education. This mode of instruction aims to reduce cost and remove physical barriers to open the doors of higher education to millions of people who otherwise, might not have had access to it. In addition to that, online education also has the tendency of making education a continuing experience, rather than an once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.

According to The Wall Street Journal, 59% of jobs in the US now require postsecondary education or training. In addition to that, career shifts are also becoming more common. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics states that people now in their 50s have switched jobs 11.3 times on average in their entire work lives. Since new jobs require new skills, continuing education has become more important now than ever.

The Changes Expected

Distance learning has the tendency to play a huge role in changing the future of higher education. According to a research conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by the New Media Consortium, the following things might be expected to change:

  • Technology will continue to have a significant effect on higher education: In the past few years, the wave of technological advancement has brought about a lot of changes in the education industry. In the upcoming years, it is expected to become a core differentiator in attracting students and corporate personnel from all over the world.
  • Online learning is gaining a strong presence in universities around the world: Both public and private sector educationists believe that online courses will soon play a vital role in advancing the mission of colleges and universities. They believe that the popularity of online instruction lies in the fact that it makes higher education accessible to people who otherwise might not be able to get it.
  • Corporate-academic partnerships will form: Since rising costs and declining funding are among the major concerns for educational institutes right now, commitment to technological advancement has become more important now than ever. To be able to attract corporate funding and form strategic partnerships, educational institutions need to depict their commitment to remaining relevant and updated in all aspects.
  • The traditional classroom will experience change: Thanks to online research, collaboration and multi-model teaching, the overall classroom experience will change for students on the whole. Lectures are uploaded online, sometimes within 30 minutes after class to make reviewing and revising easier. Online collaboration tools will make the greatest contributions in terms of improving educational quality in the coming years.
  • Greater number of courses will be offered: An interesting and vast range of coursework can be made available online via different portals. In the upcoming years, students might even be able to craft individualized degree programs, either within their university or by grouping together courses offered by a number of different universities.

In the long run, online education will become an important step forward in the reformation of higher education. The true impact of this will continue to be felt as the spread of technological devices grows.

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