10 Higher Education Trends to Watch for in 2019

by Danny Iny

The way America prepares its young people for the workforce is shifting. And it's not just a small shift; it's a huge, culture-shaking one. If you doubt it, just keep your eyes open.

There are trends to watch for in 2019 and over the next few years that signal a recalibration of everything we thought we knew. We're being tasked with preparing young people for jobs that don't even exist yet. It's uncharted territory and it's changing the conversation around what higher education should look like.

If you're paying attention, you'll see various groups—students, employers, educators—changing their behavior in response to this paradigm shift. Not only is this fascinating from a cultural perspective, it's useful in a practical way. It can help you make smarter decisions.

Higher education is on the verge of disruption. Not only is college far too expensive, it's failing to meet the needs of today's employers. Once the education bubble bursts, America's current higher education path will change dramatically. It will be replaced by a lifelong path of continued education that revolves around real, marketable skills and is responsive to how industries change over time. Here are a few trends to watch for in 2019:

Evolving skillset requirements are forcing a total rethink around how we train young people. More than ever before, the future is unknowable. Business moves so quickly—due to advances in artificial intelligence, shifting consumer behaviors, and other trends—that new industries and professions are continuously being created. Employees will need to master skills that can't even be predicted.

This paradigm shift will nudge everyone out of their comfort zone. Young people must rethink how best to gain the skills employers need. Business leaders must change how they hire and train employees. And educators of all stripes must revamp their teaching.

AI will continue to change the skill set we need. An oft-quoted 2013 Oxford University whitepaper forecasts that 47 percent of jobs could be lost to technology over the next 20 years. The good news is there are some things machines can't do as well as humans (or at all)—critical thinking, the ability to innovate and solve problems, the ability to communicate, collaborate, and practice other "soft skills."

There will be a much sharper focus on 'soft skills' across the board. This trend will drive individuals to master these skills on their own so they can compete for the jobs robots and computers can't do. Educators will change how they teach in order to better impart these skills. And businesses will change the way they train their employees.

Traditional education is no longer a foregone conclusion. For more than 30 years, college tuition has grown at double the rate of inflation. It's no surprise that student debt has risen to unsustainable levels. One recent statistic finds that graduates carry an average debt of $30,100. And research indicates more than a million people default on their student loans each year. All of this means more people are taking a hard look at the ROI of traditional higher education.

Student debt is definitely becoming a deterrent. Combine this with the fact that so many recent graduates are underemployed and you start to see a shift in the national conversation around the traditional path. College enrollment is falling—in the past five years, it's declined more than 6.5 percent—and more young people are discovering they can find better educational options and hone their skill set elsewhere.

Progressive companies are already dropping the degree requirement—and this will happen more and more. Employers have long used the college degree as a "signal" (a psychological shortcut we use to make smart decisions) that a candidate is worthy of being hired. But now companies like Google, Apple, and Bank of America are starting to recognize that students who forgo college in favor of more targeted training can often be more valuable.

With unemployment rates at a 50-year low, other companies will inevitably join them. There are far better signals on which to base hiring decisions, and companies are slowly starting to realize this. It's a trend that will quickly pick up steam.

Cutting-edge schools and alternative education options will rise up to fill the void. Currently, for example, students who opt out of traditional college can choose a hybrid program like the one offered by Minerva Schools at KGI or a program like Praxis, whose slogan is "The degree is dead. You need experience." Or they might attend a coding boot camp like Turing, Lambda, or General Assembly.

Alternative education is in its infancy right now. That will change and it will change fast as more people realize there's a far smarter, less expensive, more valuable way to prepare young people for the workforce.

Online education will explode. We'll see online and semi-synchronous education replace the traditional classroom as the benefits of having students learn at their own pace and on their own schedule become more and more apparent. They'll primarily learn by watching videos, listening to audio recordings, participating in virtual or augmented reality simulations, and so forth. At the same time, course designers and instructors will need to find ways to infuse the right amount of structure and hold students accountable.

Education will become leaner and more outcomes-driven. For students to meet their goals quickly, there will be no place for "nice to haves," only "must haves." Everything is either critical to their understanding and success, or an opportunity for them to become distracted, confused, or overwhelmed. There will be more of a focus on learning to rather than learning about.

We'll see a growth in understanding around what makes learning stick. Success behaviors will be built in. For example, courses will include more opportunities for students to reflect on their learning and performance. This incubation time is needed for the development of insight. They will also include tactics for helping students gain the fortitude they'll need to cope with the setbacks that come with learning new and complex skills.

We'll see a major shift toward lifelong "just in time" learning. It's becoming more and more clear that frontloading a whole career's worth of training into a four-year program "just in case" graduates need it when they start working is expensive and ineffective. A lifelong process where employees can access relevant trainings "just in time" to use them when they need them is better on almost every front. It spreads out the cost naturally, improves retention, and keeps the information updated and relevant in industries that evolve overnight.

Businesses will take on the lion's share of the training. Already, graduates are not prepared to hit the ground running once they're hired. Most require extensive training to make them work ready. And as time goes on, it will become crucial for companies to create and nurture a culture of constant learning and growth. It's the only way they'll be able to keep up with the technological, economic, and consumer behavior changes that continuously disrupt industries.

How businesses train will change also. They'll move away from focusing so much on the consumption of ideas and focus more on application and feedback. This is where insight and fortitude are developed—two factors that are often unaccounted for in both traditional higher education and training inside companies.

Experts from various fields will step up to provide the required ongoing education. I predict the current system will eventually be replaced by a lifelong path that begins with one or two years of foundational and niche-focused "last mile" education—either taken separately or bundled together—with four more years of continuing education spread over the rest of our careers. Experts and professionals on the cutting edge and front lines of their respective fields will leverage their knowledge to keep the workforce of tomorrow up to speed.

These trends make it clear: Change is coming. The global economy moves quickly, and American industries can't stay competitive unless our model for training the next generation of employees moves right along with it.

Everything about our economy and workplace has changed over the last few decades. How we prepare students for the future needs to change, too. The good news is that we've long had one of the greatest education systems in the world. We have what it takes to reinvent ourselves.

We must question all our assumptions and rethink who our educators are, what we're teaching, how and when we're teaching it, and how much we're charging for it. When we put our minds to it, we can reimagine an education system that works for everyone. iBi

Danny Iny is the founder and CEO of the online business education company Mirasee and author of multiple best-selling books about online education, including his most recent, Leveraged Learning. For more information, visit mirasee.com.

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