Higher education of tomorrow



Without stretching the imagination, it is easy to envision the college of tomorrow by simply extrapolating from the trends of today.

There will remain five basic types of higher-education institutions:

1. Two-year schools. Much as they are today, these will have a dual purpose. First, they will prepare students for ‘hands on’ careers requiring a base level of certification. Second, they will offer ‘transfer degrees’ enabling students who could not (or did not) enter four-year colleges directly from high school to gain skills (or proficiency at the tests meant to assess skills) and find entry into baccalaureate programs. Teaching will continue to be the responsibility of a mix of full-time and part-time faculty. Typical 5/5 teaching loads for the FT faculty will keep their focus on the classroom, faculty having little time for scholarship or even necessary service responsibilities. To take some of the burden off of faculty and in response to the drive for quantifiable “outcomes” at both the high-school and baccalaureate level, these schools will become more and more focused on standardized, rubric-driven curricula. Also, as in for-profit colleges, curriculum development will fall to non-teaching “professionals” attuned to accreditation, certification, and certification needs. Because of the expectation that FT faculty will focus almost exclusively on teaching, the percentage of adjunct faculty will be somewhat lower than in four-year schools, though, for financial reasons, it will still be high. Administrative oversight will be intense and numbers driven.

2. For-profit schools. These will provide an alternative to standard two- and four-year schools, allowing students to complete coursework online and earn degrees without a necessary campus experience. They won’t be as powerful or profitable as they once were, their ability to exist on federally guaranteed student loans having been curtailed. Faculty will continue to be exclusively part-time, acting as replaceable “facilitators” whose responsibility involves simply evaluation and assistance during the process of the course. Though outside oversight will have increased a great deal, degrees from these schools will not have the weight of those from public colleges.

3. Four-year public colleges. This category will include the undergraduate programs at even research institutions and it is here that changes will be most apparent. The number of FT faculty will continue to dwindle, the burden of teaching falling almost exclusively on adjuncts and other contingent hires, the FT faculty becoming ersatz administrators, the “service” demands of the institution, which will now have to be met by fewer bodies (the contingent faculty being hired only for teaching), having grown to such a degree that FT faculty’s expected teaching load will have been reduced to, with release time counted in, less than 2/2. Most students will not be taught by a FT faculty member until their junior or senior year. Demands for scholarship from the FT faculty, which still will be growing, will continue, making the faculty members loathe to teach anything outside of the arena of their current scholarship, leaving all but the advanced courses to contingent hires. The goal of most FT faculty will be to leave these institutions for appointments in research institutions (or in the research faculty of the graduate division of their own institution), a move that will be contingent on their ability to bring in funds or raise the institution’s public profile. Research and service will be the core of their responsibilities, anyway; teaching will be seen as something for contingent hires or those new to the institution. Because of accrediting demands and the lack of cohesion inherent in reliance on contingent faculty, as well as the continuing desire for quantifiable “outcomes,” curricula will be circumscribed and textbooks standardized by FT faculty committees overseeing contingent faculty. Though there will still be an illusion of governance shared by the faculty, that will only be the rump FT faculty, the vast majority (the contingent faculty) having no say at all. Academic freedom concerns will be muted by the lack of tenure-track possibilities for much of the faculty.

4. Research institutions. Though physically intertwined, for the most part, with undergraduate schools, these will have become even more removed than they are today from undergraduate education. The demand for scholarly production and for the attraction of funding will have increased research responsibilities for faculty with a corresponding continuing decrease in teaching load. Graduate students will continue to fund their education by teaching on a part-time, contingent basis in the associated undergraduate program—one of the only reasons the two divisions of any one university remain connected.

5. Elite, private institutions. In response to increasing demand for quantifiable assessment, these will have removed themselves from the accrediting oversight associated with public colleges, creating new accrediting bodies whose flexible standards allow them to continue the types of liberal education that made them so successful in the twentieth century and that will allow them to continue to produce the elites and leaders of American society.