Business Needs Drive Higher Education Innovation

It appears that the future of higher education will be one of innovation. The increasing presence of nontraditional students, artificial intelligence, and global economic markets are creating an environment that demands higher education innovation. The need for innovation will impact many stakeholders including policy makers, higher education institutions, businesses and their employees.

Most higher education innovation supports student success. High impact practices include advising, mentoring and collecting student data to help students stay on track. Colleges and universities have developed online education, flexible scheduling, and alternative methods of awarding credit to make higher education accessible to the growing nontraditional student population.

Higher education goal and mission statements reflect broad impacts. They include words such as, research, development, skills, along with phrases such as global society, economic development and prepare students. Jonathan Gyruko, CEO of the Association of College and University Educators says these broad statements reflect how the world is changing and the need for higher education innovation. Higher education needs to innovate and evolve along with business and society’s changing needs.

The Automation Readiness Index: Who is Ready for the Coming Wave of Automation, produced by The Economist, states that students will need education in computational thinking, artificial intelligence techniques and robotics to deal with changes in technology. And technology is changing quickly so people will have to be adaptable and continuously upgrade their skills.

The Automation Readiness Index compares countries on how prepared they are “for the ages of intelligent automation” by assessing their policies and strategies in areas of innovation, education and labor market. The United States is behind other countries in areas of education policies, but changing these policies is difficult. “Educators and policy makers are hobbled by the uncertainty that surrounds technology and its effects on the labor market. “We’re in a stage of experimentation,” said James Bessen, an economist with Boston University, “and I think it’s going to take us a couple of decades to figure out which policies and approaches work and which don’t.”

Businesses don’t really have a couple decades to wait for change and higher education innovation. Rather than wait for education policies to dictate higher education innovation, businesses can use their tuition assistance policies to prepare their workers for change. For example, “The disruption that can occur is occurring, says David Fink, VP of HR of Airbus Group, and it can have a significant impact to our business.” His company sees the importance of training and development for employees. For them, employee training, education and work experience are all related. The head of North American Leadership University for Airbus, Louise Kyhl Triolo, believes “learning should be constant, experiential and ‘totally integrated into how you work, how you live your life, how you drive your goals.’ ”

Higher education innovation and policy will evolve around business needs and employer demands. Businesses that encourage employees to continue their education will influence the programs and courses that higher education institutions develop. Advanced technology means that workers will need advanced STEM education, but they will also need to enhance soft-skills to develop unique human talents that robots can’t duplicate.

Today’s work environment includes the need for workers to gain advanced knowledge and new skills. “No longer is it this one-and-done model where you get your bachelor’s degree and you’re set for your career,” says Sarah DeMark, VP at Western Governor University. She explains that higher education innovation will reflect this new norm of continual education.