On-going Higher Education Trends

January is like turning the page to the next chapter of a book. Reflecting on past events and predicting what will happen next is part of the experience. The same process happens with higher education trends. As a new year starts, thought leaders weigh in on higher education trends and predict how past events will impact what happens next.

A few recent higher education trends are closely related: today’s students, lifelong learning, and the need to prepare artificial intelligence in the workplace. Today’s students are often the workers who discover they need education to be able to work with AI and automation.

Today’s students
Anyone who has observed higher education trends knows that today’s students are not all the bright-eyed recent high school graduates whose parents are paying for them to live in a dorm on a campus. A large number of today’s higher education students are nontraditional students, a classification that includes many characteristics.

Today’s students are older, ethnically diverse, have dependents, may be active duty military or veterans, or are in the labor market. They may have delayed starting their education or they may already have some college experience but not yet earned a degree. In this diverse group:
• 38 percent of undergrads are over age 25
• 58 percent work while they are in college
• 26 percent of students have children
• 47 percent are financially independent
• 42 percent live near or below the poverty level

Any one of these characteristics could be a barrier to success, but nontraditional students are an important part of the U.S. education and economic future. it is important that adult nontraditional students attain their degrees. The U.S. cannot meet Lumina Foundation’s Goal 2025 of 60 percent of Americans having a meaningful credential or degree by 2025 without nontraditional students. Almost 11.6 million adults will need to earn a postsecondary credential, including both people who have delayed starting their postsecondary education and those who have some college but no credential.

Attaining higher education is important for personal welfare, and Reaching Goal 2025 is important for maintaining an economy that is globally competitive. An employer tuition assistance plan that supports adult students is one way to help people move ahead in their education pursuits.

Lifelong Learning
A higher education trend that is here to stay is the need for lifelong learning. Technologies are changing at a rapid rate, and today’s businesses need workers that can adapt to the changes and are prepared to work with new technologies. Both businesses and employees have an immediate need to engage in lifelong learning. This can be a central part of an employer TAP, and help create stability in a business workforce. Jeffrey Russell, Dean of Continuing Studies and Vic Provost for Lifelong Learning at University of Wisconsin, says that the key to an uncertain future is lifelong learning. “If people continually learn new skills, they’ll be ready for whatever curveballs the job market throws at them.”

The students who are part of the lifelong learning higher education trend are the nontraditional students who are employees at companies that must have employees prepared to engage with new technologies. Attitudes of American workers show an awareness of the need for lifelong learning. A Pew Research Center survey shows that 73 percent of adults consider themselves lifelong learners and 55 percent of full-or part-time workers participated in lifelong learning to maintain or improve their job skills.

Working with AI
One of the higher education trends that shows nontraditional students will be seeking lifelong learning is the need to learn to work with artificial intelligence. American workers know their jobs will change. In a survey with Gallup and Northeastern University only one in five people with a bachelor’s degree thought they were well prepared for working with AI. However, 53 percent believed that they could get the education they needed.

These employees also showed how important employer tuition assistance is in relation to higher education trends. Almost half of the employees said they would go to employers for retraining programs, and 61 percent said that employers should pay for retraining.

Tuition assistance will be vitally important to individuals and businesses. A McKinsey Global study predicts that by 2030 anywhere from 3 to 14 percent of the global workforce will need to change occupational categories and that all workers will need to adapt as people work alongside machines. “Some of that adaptation will require higher educational attainment, or spending more time on activities that require social and emotional skills, creativity, high-level cognitive capabilities and other skills relatively hard to automate,” the report states.

Preparing to work with AI encompasses many other higher education trends. It will be critical for individuals and businesses to provide training opportunities for workers and use tuition assistance to its greatest advantage. The McKinsey report states, “Many companies are finding it is in their self-interest—as well as important for societal responsibility—to train and prepare workers for a new world of work.”