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Business Officer Magazine

Five Trends Higher Education Can’t Afford to Ignore

There are five key trends that are affecting higher education today, said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education (ACE), in her keynote address on Monday.

  • International economic landscape. Asia will be the center of gravity of the global economy before midcentury, Broad said. Today, about 28 million Chinese students are enrolled in higher education, surpassing the 18 million in the U.S. Currently India has 10 million students in higher education, but it plans to increase that number to 75 million. "We must confront the fact that we have fallen behind," Broad said. "The development of huge talent pools in other parts of the world will make them eligible for jobs that Americans were suited for. It's imperative that we develop high-quality programs for attainment of higher-quality American workers."
  • A "new normal" in higher education finance. Even with the recovery of endowments, the effects of the recession will be long-lasting. "We must be realistic that even when state economies return to pre-2008 levels, the level of support for higher education will not return," Broad said. With greater scrutiny on public institutions, there is heightened interest in regulation. "The fear is that we'll end up with the worst of both worlds," she said, "cuts in funding and more intervention by government."
  • Rethinking the business of higher education. Raising tuition will not solve the challenges that higher education institutions face, Broad said. A new business model is needed, and CBOs are at the center of the challenge. Institutions need to learn to improve accountability on the learning side, not just the management side, and to focus on improving learning outcomes. Broad cited new academic models such as open courseware, course redesign, cognitive sciences and accelerated learning, prior learning assessment, and three-year bachelor's degrees.
  • Ascendance of for-profit providers. For-profit vendors will have a long-lasting impact on higher education. "They have pushed us to take risks and try new approaches," Broad said. "They have grown rapidly and they have created new paradigms." Although there have been some cases of fraud and the government has raised serious concerns, the for-profits are here to stay and will have "an outsize influence on the reality of higher education."
  • Increased emphasis on quality assurance. Institutions must pay attention to three dimensions: productivity and efficiency, consumer protection, and learning outcomes.

"The combined pressures of these five trends have led observers to ask if higher education is the next big bubble," Broad summarized. "Is higher education being overvalued and are we destined for a comeuppance? As a nation, we can't let that happen. I can envision no future for the U.S. that doesn't depend on a highly educated populace. Continuous improvement can't be just a buzzword. Will we just muddle our way through today's challenges, or will we seize the opportunity to begin a new chapter in American higher education? That's the real question for us."

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