Four Emerging Trends Facing the Future of Higher Education
How institutions are bouncing back from COVID-19 challenges, more innovative than ever
The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic calls into question nearly everything about our lives. In order to adapt to — and even rise above — the challenges within post-secondary institutions, higher education is taking a critical look at structure, process, and sustainability.
Facing global effects of the pandemic, including rapid school closures, social distancing, public health concerns, unemployment spikes, housing instability, and food insecurities, inventive colleges and universities have had to pivot through expensive operational challenges. To push beyond simple experimentation, post-secondary schools are letting go of existing practices, balancing immediate needs, and learning lessons, all the while prioritizing… swiftly!
As a result, a new educational environment is emerging, setting expectations for a post-pandemic world and calling for academics with greater accountability and teaching with true transparency. Now, students, faculty, and staff alike are tipping traditions, adjusting how they operate and engaging in more new ways than ever before.
Below are four rising trends happening in higher education right now.
- Top-notch, transformative teaching technology
Just as people have adapted and evolved during the pandemic, so has the academic experience. In a new world of high-volume, remote learning, institutions need reliable technology like robust systems and secure networks to provide students with educational accessibility from anywhere.
During the digital shift to vast virtual learning, a school’s willingness to invest in user-friendly technology for a seamless experience can combat time, technological, and location constraints to learning.
The digital delivery of education must also encompass faculty training and development so that all tech-related inquiries can be answered quickly and effortlessly.
Whether institutions want to reach students for COVID-19 updates or provide “coming attractions” of their future careers, some of the creative tools used to alleviate the pandemic’s impediments include:
- Artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots
- E-blast subscriptions
- Mass messaging alert programs
- Social media platforms
- Texting applications
- Virtual meeting software like Zoom and Microsoft Teams
- Virtual reality simulation, and more
Schools are also using analytic tools to pinpoint data that shine a spotlight on what’s working, and what’s not, to create user consistency across the board.
With an institution’s increased capacity for technology-enhanced learning, schools can literally meet learners where they are. Convenient connectivity to the curriculum further engages and empowers students to push themselves and their futures forward.
- Don’t mask your mental health: Mental health awareness and advocacy
The social isolation and distancing of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated preexisting mental health concerns. The lines separating school, work, and personal life have become blurred, causing significant psychological distress for much of the world.
Compartmentalizing between the couch and the classroom has become less commonplace, and the burdens of burnout and uncertainty are all too real. Consequently, the insurmountable shift in everyday circumstances has created an increased number of students seeking help.
Higher ed institutions are working harder than ever to reduce the stereotypes and stigma surrounding mental health and well-being. To assist students in acquiring adequate coping skills, colleges and universities are actively removing mental health barriers and preparing pupils for their lives, both present day and their professions post-pandemic.
So, how are educational institutions upholding these efforts?
Today, post-secondary schools are advocating strong mental health as part of their mission to provide students with information on counseling services, right from the start of their educational experiences — during orientation. During this higher education introduction, purposeful conversations highlight issues regarding proper sleep, nutrition, exercise, and social media usage.
Additionally, offering students modern, flexible modalities such as secure telehealth and videoconferencing increases access to care, eliminates wait times, and provides patients a more comfortable experience in their home environments. Learners are also finding access to mental health support through online resources such as:
- Adaptability infographics on adjusting to studying at home
- Articles on self-care tips or what it takes to be a leader in trying times
- Blog features on the pandemic’s psychological effects
- Counseling services webpages
- FAQ pages about mental health help
- Tabs on what to expect when seeking psychological assistance, and more
Institutions are also confronting the mental health stigma from a programmatic aspect. Goodwin University’s psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner track, for instance, offers prospective students a viable graduate program that hones student skills to help their communities’ mental health.
Well-being concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic have also enacted a shared responsibility in holistic healing and student success. Faculty and staff are now more cognizant of the significance of providing psychologically safe learning environments. Educators and staff are also more alert — recognizing the red flags for students in need of counseling referrals, ultimately reducing the drop-out rate due to mental health.
Campus-wide climates and expectations surrounding mental health are also starting at the top, as higher education industry leaders reinforce the belief that no one is alone, and we can all get through this historic time together.
- Converting traditional curricula
With many college and university doors closed, the COVID-19 pandemic magnified the need to digitize and customize curricula with a keen focus on the future careers of those enrolled.
During a time of economic recession, the value placed on education when unemployment is at an all-time high takes on new meaning. With career outcomes and return on investment set center stage, institutions with accelerated programs, online degrees, and skill-building, short-term certificate programs prevail.
Many institutions have partnered with local businesses, civic leaders, and state lawmakers to create curricula that provide programs that impart industry-specific skillsets. In these specialized subjects, sectors in need of nationwide revival like advanced manufacturing can produce educated, qualified employees ready to work.
Corporate partnership programs currently collaborate with colleges and universities — working in line with learners and their career services team to make their professional goals possible.
Without question, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused curricula to change. The methods by which instructors pass on new knowledge are adapting alongside it, and the flexible way students absorb information is fluctuating as well.
To make education as accessible as possible for all learners, regardless of their location, some institutions implement the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework and reimagine existing educational infrastructures, providing a more student-centered approach to academics.
The engaging UDL framework takes the monotony out of memorization strategies applied in traditional settings. UDL allows learners to demonstrate their mastery of course material on their terms, giving students the option to relay what they’ve learned by way of writing, animation, song, podcast, dance, or other methods of their choosing. With UDL, no matter where a student is, whether it be in the classroom or on the computer, they can now comprehend more efficiently and communicate more effectively the core curriculum behind their future career.
- Carrying on the community campus culture
The COVID-19 crisis sounded a call to action for everyone to check in on one another and build a better sense of community. For those in the higher education industry, this means staying in tune with those you serve and devoting attention not only to teaching and learning with students but to lifting them up as well — ultimately building a culture of trust and a tribe in which to thrive.
Since the pandemic began, many higher education professionals are going above and beyond to ensure their students’ safety and serenity, calling everyone enrolled for check-in chats and well-being updates. Through targeted outreach and engagement, educators help students maintain a sense of belonging by making sure their basic needs are being met and asking how they can best help.
Institutions are coming up with creative student engagement solutions like hosting inclusive virtual events that connect those with similar interests and identities during social distancing.
Student affairs departments are embracing interactive online activities like daily trivia questions as well as by putting together drive-by events and contactless pick-up activity kits.
With fewer opportunities to network in this seemingly new world, virtual events like career fairs and workshops coordinated by Career Services departments help students, through digital platforms, to align their academics with people in their future profession.
The emerging trends facing the future of higher education now mirror the momentous signs of the times.
The pandemic has been all about learning to adapt. Whether adjusting to new technology, familiarizing yourself with mental health signs and symptoms, conceptualizing changing coursework, or trying to connect to peers and professionals through the public health crisis, like the higher education industry, we must learn to embrace the opportunities that unfold and evolve even stronger than before.
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.