During a Young Presidents' Organization luncheon prior to the annual ASU GSV Summit on Education Innovation, I listened to Jeff Selingo (author of College Unbound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students) lead a panel on the challenges facing higher education. The usual discussion of a MOOCs, online learning, "flipped classrooms" took place and the usual frustrations expressed.

The question, that resonated most with me, however came from someone in the audience who asked -"but would you wish this form (online) of college education for your own children?" It isn't a cut and dry question - but in so many ways this type of empathy is what is needed most in our discussions surrounding so many important topics facing the U.S.

Top 7 - Not to be Missed Higher Education Trends from 2014

1) The Case for College - It is useful to consider the remarks of Harvard University President - Drew Faust - defending the value of a higher education. In contrast with Peter Thiel questioning the value of college and even CNN joining the discussion with its Ivory Tower documentary.

2) Greater Accountability - The White House push for greater accountability by the more than 4,000 institutions that benefit from $238 Billion in annual financial aid programs led to a useful service titled College Scorecards in the U.S. Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency Center.

College Scorecard

Though the debate continues to know if this is sufficient or an over-reach in regulations, the call for accountability for the public investment (in grants, student loans etc) will continue. It is striking to me how ACE (American Council on Education) and others now claim that the cost of regulations is driving the rapid rise in the cost of college.

3) Important Insights regarding College Completion by Gallup / Lumnia FoundationBe sure to read the data from Gallup Education and subscribe toLumnia’s work be sure to watch pursuit of one specific goal—what they call Goal 2025. By the year 2025, Lumina wants 60% of Americans to hold a college degree, certificate or other high-quality postsecondary credential. Complete College America – The 4 Year Myth This is an important study. Current on-time graduation rates suggest that the “four-year degree” and the “two-year degree” have become little more than modern myths for far too many of our students. The report describes the reality as "our system of higher education costs too much, takes too long, and graduates too few." It is noteworthy that Lumnia / Gallup have advanced some of the best thinking, without the apparent resistance, from earlier work by the Gates Foundation.

4) Transparency – Student Press Law Center / Clery Act Reporting by Schools Title IX and Violence Against Women Act captured headlines and focused a meaningful discussion by colleges on how to balance the needs of victims with the rights of the accused. Though there were nearly weekly articles on these topics, what may have been missed by others is the overarching theme is about how colleges and universities either embrace or avoid transparent policies. 

The work of the Student Press Law Center. When SPLC addresses a topic, it signals to me that a fundamental shift is occurring regarding themes of transparency. Look for more work from SPLC to encourage local reporting of how colleges are disclosing the reality of campus and student life.

5) Disruptive Innovation - You may have missed The Atlantic’s article attacking the adoption of “Disruptive Innovation” by Harvard Business School Professor, Clay Christiansen. It is worth reading but do so with caution. Though it seems to have legitimate limitations to education, many in the education technology sector do not see them. Even so, I agree the dilemma that Christensen describe nearly 20 years ago in his book is probably still the best guide to thinking more intelligently about it. I prefer Gallup's Brandon Busteed's view that “We may learn that the real disruptive innovation in education is the need for a human support system and deep learning experiences. Though colleges and universities might be threatened by disruption from online courses, they should have an advantage on fundamentals like mentoring, caring professors and deep and experiential learning."

6) Education Technology – Google Gmail / Apps & Net Neutrality Two noteworthy developments that were easy to miss address the technologies that enable college and universities. The first was the admission by Google that it was mining data from student and teacher emails through its Education Suite of services. Google ended the practice after an outcry and lawsuit to protect users privacy,Google Stops Mining Education Gmail And Google Apps Accounts For Ad TargetingIn addition, the debate on “Net Neutrality” has implications for education as well. The concept of net neutrality holds that all Web traffic should be treated equally by Internet providers and governments. However, the Federal Communications Commission proposed new rules that would allow providers, such as Comcast and Verizon, to charge content providers differently. It may not be a major concern but without net neutrality educators may face one more obstacle to distributing their content through affordable and reliable channels.

7) In all of the debate about education reform consider this data point, 71% of Americas 17 – 24 year olds are ineligible for military service. 
According to a report issued by the Mission: Readiness Group - about 71% of America's 17- to 24-year-olds are ineligible for military service due to lack of education, obesity and other physical problems, or criminal history. Read the report to see how the military is advocating for stronger schools and communities. Imagine the challenges facing colleges and universities when also confronted with these trends when attempting to increase college completion rates.

Military Eligibility Rates


Implications for 2015

What ever your view is of these higher education trends, I welcome a thoughtful discussion and your insights. More schools, families and students depend on GradGuard to help students' overcome the unexpected financial losses that may disrupt their pursuit of a college education. You can count on our continued voice

A wise friend told me once, that the failure of our educational system is really just a symptom of communities and families that are failing. As much as we may look for alternative remedies (technology, common core, new funding formulas etc), the balance of the issues surrounding education also depend upon your point of view. Too often, our leaders ask us to make a false choice. Is education a personal benefit or a community good? In fact, it is both. Education, and particularly a higher education, is important to building both the capacity of individuals and our society.

Stay tuned as these themes will continue to evolve in 2015 and listen to this webinar to learn more about how schools are making new efforts to disclose their tuition refund policies.

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