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Future of Higher Education

The Key to a Student-Focused Future for Higher Education

To stay relevant in today’s educational environment, higher education institutions must change their approach to creating a student-focused experience. We asked some industry experts about the best ways schools, colleges, and universities should go about doing this.

Sue Diseker Sabat

CEO, BocaVox

How important is it to consider each student’s unique needs in optimizing their higher education experience? 

Students have different learning styles and goals for why they attend college. If their adviser utilizes an individualized learning plan and uploads it to the student’s file in the institution’s management system so both can refer back to it and update it throughout the student’s academic life, it can provide a roadmap to help them reach their goals. Documenting goals helps students commit to them.

What challenges do colleges and universities have when changing their infrastructure to ensure student and institutional success? 

Because each institution has different ways of operating, an infrastructure change is always challenging. The key to a successful system transition is to have at least one fully dedicated resource who is familiar with the institution’s processes. A project manager must have excellent communication and organizational skills with the ability to prioritize needs.

How does data inform strategic decision-making for college and university leaders? 

Admission, attendance, grades, and data from satisfaction surveys all help predict drop-out or graduation rates; disciplinary actions, data from media and student/faculty communications can inform decisions to avoid potential acts of violence; and course request data can inform hiring decisions and the need for an increase/decrease in courses to offer. 

What areas should institutions prioritize in 2020 and how important is it to consider each student’s unique needs in optimizing the higher education experience?

Key focus of institutions for 2020 are maintaining or increasing enrollment numbers with clever recruitment efforts: offering up-to-date courses based on career trends, staying current on social media, offering social events and presentations that cater to the preferences of targeted student populations, and continuing to do research that will contribute to a kinder, healthier world.

Charlie Moran

Sr. Partner and CEO, Moran Technology Consulting

How important is it to consider each student’s unique needs in optimizing their higher education experience? 

Each student arrives with different background, goals, resources, and challenges. If we really want to help our students, we have to holistically consider these differences to provide personalized help that really helps. Bulk solutions that assume they help everyone often help no one. 

What challenges do colleges and universities have when changing their infrastructure to ensure student and institutional success? 

The major challenges are money and culture. Investment dollars are disappearing, but major people and technology investments are needed. A culture that doesn’t primarily focus on student success will be hard-pressed to survive. Cultural change has to start at the top and be reinforced regularly.

How does data inform strategic decision making for college and university leaders? 

It is countercultural, but institutions must learn to use data to analyze and stop spending on low-return programs and activities, and to focus spending on areas that deliver student-recognized benefits. Schools have the data they need – they just haven’t invested to strategically use it.

What areas should institutions prioritize in 2020 and how important is it to consider each student’s unique needs in optimizing the higher education experience?

Find and stop low benefit activities, and redirect their funding to invest in student and institutional success. Use your data to identify and recruit the types of students who will be successful at your institution. Be transparent, and show faculty and staff where you get and spend your funds. 

Dr. Michael Berger

Dean, College of Doctoral Studies, Grand Canyon University

How does higher education benefit career paths or create value and new opportunities?

College degrees are more imperative today than ever before. As our workforce grows increasingly competitive, it becomes clear that higher education is a necessary pursuit for those with goals of becoming a leader in their field. 

In many industries, it’s not only that a person’s salary steadily increases along with their level of college education, it’s that a college degree is the key you need to unlock the door into the field at all. Many employers won’t even consider employees without a bachelor’s degree. 

Employees with graduate-level degrees stand out from their peers and are better positioned for advanced opportunities and leadership positions. Doctoral programs teach not only advanced skills and knowledge, but also high-level critical thinking and analysis skills that are increasingly in demand in today’s information-saturated world. 

What resources are necessary to help students thrive in higher education programs?

Higher education programs are challenging by nature but earning a high-level degree is more than achievable when academic institutions offer students proper resources. Academic support in higher education includes traditional tutoring programs outside the classroom, but inside the classroom, it is essential to have faculty who are accessible to students, who are invested in their students’ success, and who care about them as human beings. 

In addition to academic resources, institutions who intend for students to thrive should provide resources that support students’ physical and mental health. These include counseling services and addressing problems within the institution that may cause students to experience stress or setbacks. 

One of the most impactful resources in higher education is the support of peers. Higher education institutions can assist students by fostering an environment where learners can benefit and learn from one another.

What changes are universities making to adapt to the increase of online students in higher education programs?

The increase in demand for online education programs has resulted in a greater number of higher education institutions entering into the online education space. This competitive landscape has made it necessary for universities to invest into their online education platforms, utilizing software and hardware to enhance the connection between remote students and faculty. 

In order to provide higher quality in their online courses, universities are hiring faculty who specialize in online education rather than traditional in-person instruction. Prioritizing research into effective pedagogies for online learning is allowing institutions to administer superior education to a rapidly increasing population of online learners. 

Online students can have different needs than their on-campus counterparts, and a university has to be ready to address and manage those differences. 

What are your thoughts on the future of higher education?

Expectations of employees are increasing throughout our workforce and the responsibility of preparing graduates to meet these expectations is falling on higher education institutions. 

Moving forward, higher education programs will need to provide students with opportunities to practice skills learned within the classroom. Higher education needs to harness the theoretical toward the development of concrete, actionable skillsets that allow students to thrive when they enter their careers. It needs to accommodate the students with differing schedules who are likely working one or even two jobs while in school. It needs to focus first and foremost on student outcomes — higher graduation rates, lower student debt, and higher employment placement rates. 

Fardad Fateri

President and CEO, International Educational Corporation

How important is it to consider each student’s unique needs in optimizing the higher education experience?

Students come to college with unique backgrounds and experiences to be able to assess and address each student’s style in an accommodating and warm learning community is an essential part of ensuring student success.

How are non-traditional higher education programs improving the student experience?

I wouldn’t say non-traditional higher education necessarily improves a student’s experience; I would say non-traditional higher education serves a student population that would otherwise not have the opportunity to experience a college experience that is short-term, practitioner-oriented, hands-on and career-focused.

What key focus areas should institutions be prioritizing in 2020?

The postsecondary institution of the future needs to align itself with societal and marketplace demands as well as the needs of the new generation of students who don’t always seek degrees but want competency-based education that prepares them for the real world.

How does including educators in a university’s decision-making leadership improve outcomes for students and faculty?

Asking for student, staff, and faculty feedback should not be a novel concept but as an integral part of designing organizations that is inclusive, collaborative, thoughtful and strategic.

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