Decline, Unknowing and Unbounding: Three Big Changes Coming to Colleges

In a recent opinion article in Inside Higher Ed, Lehigh University President John D. Simon points out the obvious environment colleges face today: doubt as to their value, growing cost and a growing need for financial aid, and technological innovation. Simon also sees three large changes on the horizon — he calls them “The Great Decline,” “The Great Unknowing,” and “The Great Unbounding” — which he says need not be strictly challenges. They are opportunities.

What is the Great Decline? A decline in the numbers of students. Between 2025 and 2030, the number of students reaching college age (specifically native-born, he notes) is expected to decline by 650,000. There is no reason to believe that the number of people choosing college will stay steady, either. It’s not enough to get students into the seats — and this is a topic I’ve looked at before — colleges need to keep them there. Why should we think, he notes, that students would even want to go to college in the U.S.? Even education is being globalized.

How about the Great Unknowing? It’s that neither colleges nor students can know the changing job market and what will be expected of them. In a globalized economy, how can a student know in advance where they might find a job or live? What we think about professional requirements, Simon points out, can no longer be “fixed.” This is the age of ambiguity. Requirements for success will outpace the curriculum and core requirements.

Finally, the Great Unbundling — “unbundling education” means, according to Simon, “access to education in modular form, one career step at a time,” and it will be increasingly important for the next generation of students, the children of millennials known as “Alphas.” And alphas, like current Gen Z students, are tech-savvy — and their parents encountered a college education as “a source of significant debt.” In the age of disruption, education must change; the millennials have navigated the workforce by putting stock in credentialing, not just college degrees. Expect more of that.

A student, in short, is not “done” upon graduation. Nevertheless, higher education remains indispensable, and colleges must work to own their futures.

The role Capture Higher Ed plays in that future is to ensure that colleges begin with strong classes — not just numbers of students, but students who are suited to the particular institution. We do this from the same standpoint that the students will find as they graduate: the power of Behavioral Intelligence. How? We invite you to talk to us.

By Sean Hill, Senior Content Writer, Capture Higher Ed