The College of the Future: Overview

Looking forward, the one certain thing I see is that there will be no single model for the “college of the future.” Just as Oxford and Cambridge have maintained their traditions while the British Open University has blossomed around them, the higher education space will be populated by an ever-expanding variety of diverse models. I believe these models will include technologically-infused campuses where full-time students live and commute, low-residency programs, learning centers, workplace-based programs, and cloud-based communities.

The one constant among them will be the technology-infused environment including data analytics and digitization that gives each model the capacity to operate effectively. This substantial diversification of the “ways and means” of providing higher education in the moment will also extend throughout life, with learners coming and going as needed, given their learning needs. Time will become the variable and evidence-based learning outcomes the constant in this world.

The next four blogs are going to investigate the college of the future from three angles – core collegiate functions, faculty and staff roles, and organizational structures – in an attempt to tickle out some of the characteristics that will transcend the application of any particular model. Having said that, from my perspective, there is one, over-riding change that will affect all future models to some extent: the sourcing and uses of curricular content.

Historically, colleges and libraries were oases of organized knowledge, curriculum, in an information-poor society. And the curriculum was what visitors to the oases consumed, before departing with their degrees, refreshed and prepared for the world. This core function was inextricably linked to governance, the promotion and tenure process, and academic policy at most colleges. They were as inter-locked as they were insulated.

Today, however, the world has gone green; curricular content and information abounds and people can access that information in myriad ways. The insulated world of higher education has been perforated forever. Included in this revolution are the finest courses from the best universities in the world, available through the Open Education Consortium and a growing number of MOOC providers (edX, Coursera, and Udacity). Additionally, there are third-party providers sprouting all through the landscape with additional content (Degreed, StraighterLine). And, as access to content has been revolutionized, so have the ways in which that content and related information can be employed to enhance learning. In fact, the revolutionary change in the role of content has, in turn, changed the core functions of the college of the future. For more, see the next blog.

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