Imagining the future of Higher Education



Looking ahead to the second century of the AAUP’s existence, the November-December issue of Academe includes two articles that select a specific year as a springboard for imagining the future of higher education. While both articles acknowledge the impossibility of predicting the future accurately, they each offer insights into current attitudes that may influence the direction of higher education.

In “The Professoriate Reconsidered,” Adrianna Kezar and Elizabeth Holcombe pose the question of what the faculty will look like in 2050. As researchers for the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success, they surveyed over 1,500 faculty members, administrators, and policy makers on their views of future faculty. Endeavoring to identify areas of consensus amidst the wide range of opinions, they found that a majority of respondents expressed support for increasing the number of full-time positions, creating teaching-intensive tenure-track positions, and enabling both the research interests and family lives of faculty. Areas of disagreement included prioritization of institutional needs over faculty autonomy, the long-term future of tenure, and the “unbundling” of faculty roles through a changing division of academic labor. Unlike unionized faculty members, administrators often considered unions obstacles to change, yet their perceptions were often based on stereotypes. While too many changes in higher education over the past few decades have been negative, Kezar and Holcombe urge all in higher education to overcome their differences and collaborate to support positive change for faculty in the years ahead.

In “Higher Ed in 2037,” Tom McBride offers a more whimsical perspective on the future of higher education. As the coauthor of the annual Mindset List, he captures what each class of entering college students knows and takes for granted. For example, the class of 2019 has “never licked a postage stamp” and thinks “Google has always been there . . . ‘to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.’” Extrapolating about what students born in 2015 are likely to know when they enter college as the class of 2037, McBride suggests that technology will transform higher education and workplaces even more in future decades than it has already. Grappling with the impact of robots and questions of where humans fit in amongst other animals and increasingly intelligent machines, universities may even develop “transhuman studies” programs. Similar to Kezar and Holcombe, with a tone that is at once less optimistic and more humorous, McBride expresses concern about recent trends in higher education and hopes that what future students experience will be better than he fears.