Editor's Note (The View From Here)

Renovating Higher Education

The cover story this month is about renovating, repurposing and rebuilding to keep up with ever-changing facility needs. A look at the bigger pictures tells us that it is not just our facilities that are in need of renovation. It is the entire higher education system.

Over the past decade a number of factors — economics, politics, demographics, globalization, competition, technological advances and a new breed of student — have forced us to take a serious look at the current structure of higher education. Along with the rising cost of an education and high unemployment/underemployment rates of current graduates comes more scrutiny about “gainful employment” and the value of higher education. The goal for many is no longer an ivy-league education, but instead access to online coursework, community college programs and even the training programs of large corporations. Higher education as we knew it no longer fills the needs of today’s tech-savvy student body; students that depend on alternative ways to find information and communicate. Following are some initiatives that are renovating, repurposing and rebuilding our current higher education system.

MOOCs — While MOOCs (massive open online courses) may not be the answer, or even a substitute, there is no question that they are revolutionizing higher education worldwide and starting the conversations that must be had. A low-cost/no-cost alternative, they provide access to many students that would otherwise be underserved or go unserved due to cost.

Flexible Options — The University of Wisconsin’s Flexible Option program is a portfolio of self-paced, competency-based degree and certificate offerings designed to meet the needs of adult students with some college and no degree. Progress toward a degree is based on assessments of key competencies determined by UW faculty, not seat time in a classroom or traditional online instruction. The program is personalized, self-paced and affordable.

Community College Degrees — Traditionally offering two-year and shorter-term technical degrees, 21 states now allow community colleges to also confer bachelor’s degrees. High-demand majors such as teaching and nursing, as well as limited access to four-year universities in rural areas, has driven this movement. A growing number of community colleges are looking to drop “community” from their name in order to upgrade their image and become more relevant in the eyes of prospective students and future employers.

This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

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