Is the Time Right to Change Higher Ed?

For decades now, the media had proclaimed the “death” of higher education as we know it. Online ed was supposed to do it a generation ago. Just a few years ago, the MOOC was going to put all colleges and universities out of business. Yet the institutional model that has been around for a millennium still seems to be alive and kicking.

Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, my colleague Arthur Levine (president emeritus of Teachers College, Columbia University and current president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation) writes on how the time may finally be right for higher education to begin to transition from its assembly line, industrial age approach to one better suited for the information age we all current enjoy (or at least tolerate).

Levine offers three reasons why we may finally see higher education transform in the United States. Reason one: As a nation, we are transitioning from a national, analog, industrial economy to a global, digital, information one. So it only makes sense that higher ed would follow the nation. Reason two: the number of higher education providers is booming, and it such opportunities are no longer limited to the traditional, ivy-wall-covered universities we have grown used to. And reason three: research makes clear that people learn in different ways, and we may need multiple approaches to higher education to ensure all are receiving it.

Dr. Levine is a particular fan of competency-based education, which focuses on subject matter mastery rather than time spent in a classroom. At its core, CBE is about students demonstrating their knowledge, rather than being recognized for coming to X numbers of classes for X total hours. As he writes:

[Competency-based education]  experiments need to be watched, assessed, and supported so that institutions can create and expand the infrastructure for competency-based education, including an alternative to the time-based Carnegie unit. This is merely the most visible aspect of a revolution occurring in education at all levels: the shift to learning outcomes and learner-centered education.

Every institution of higher education will have to make this shift, and the time to plan for it is now. History shows that the future of institutions that fail to act will be determined for them by policy makers and by pioneering competitors — inside and outside traditional higher education.

The full commentary is worth the read. Change is coming to higher education. The only question is whether institutions and individuals will be leading that change, or just have the change happen to them.

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