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Higher Education Must Adapt or Face Continued Decline

Higher education is headed in the wrong direction. It is refreshing to see such a prominent leader in higher education acknowledge some of the biggest problems facing colleges and universities today. Jason Wingard, President of Temple University, in his new op-ed, rightly focuses on employers who are too often ignored by the academics and administrators perched in their ivory towers and importantly, places the responsibility of addressing college affordability squarely on college administrators. It is time for institutions of higher education to rethink the status quo.
In Case You Missed It via Inside Higher Ed, Jason Wingard argues that higher education must adapt or face continued decline.

Higher Ed Must Change or Die
By Jason Wingard
August 17, 2022
Let’s examine the higher education industry in 2022.

Enrollment for both undergraduate and graduate students at U.S. colleges and universities decreased by 4.1 percent—or about 685,000 students—in spring 2022 compared to spring 2021. The number is compounded even further when you go back to 2020. The overall two-year decline is 7.4 percent, meaning that nearly 1.3 million fewer students are pursuing postsecondary education today compared to just two years ago.

The value of the college degree, in my analysis, has reached its peak and is on the wane. There are a host of factors to blame, stretching from cost and affordability to curriculum relevance to rapidly evolving skill needs to advances in automation and technology.
Imagine if a company lost nearly 10 percent of its profits in two years. The situation would be catastrophic. Drastic changes would be expected. We have lost nearly 10 percent of our students, but where is our sense of urgency? What will it take for us to recognize that the status quo is not working?

I interviewed several employers for my new book, The College Devaluation Crisis: Market Disruption, Diminishing ROI, and an Alternative Future of Learning (Stanford University Press) When I probed them as to why they were hiring students straight from high school, I was told that “the college degree had ceased to be a guarantee that employers were going to get what they wanted.” So instead, why not go younger? Why not hire cheaper?
On the surface, it makes sense. Who needs a four-year marketing degree graduate to run social media when you can instead hire someone fresh out of high school and sign them up for HootSuite’s Academy’s social media certification course? Why pay for a six-figure education when HootSuite can get you some of the same skills in just six hours and for less than $200?
We all know that a $200 certificate program does not remotely equate to a four-year education from a best-in-class institution like Temple University, but perception is everything. And the reality is that the perceived value proposition that was once a constant for institutions of higher education becomes cloudier day by day, with just six in 10 Americans recently surveyed saying college is worth the time and money.

The key to retaining the value of a degree from your own institution is ensuring your graduates have the skills to change with any market. This means that we must tweak and adapt our curriculum at least every single year.
We also must get back to basics. We are at our best when we promote discourse and the scholarly exchange of ideas. Companies deeply need high-level critical thinking skills that will never coalesce from a $200 online certificate program. This gets back to the importance of adapting curriculum on a yearly basis and, when doing so, specifically looking at our core curriculum with a fine-tooth comb.
Finally, and arguably most importantly, we need to address affordability. Not politicians, but us—leaders at institutions of higher education.

Solving the challenges ahead will not be easy. But it’s past time for higher education to ignore the flames and take the leap. …
Read the full op-ed here
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