5 Bold Predictions For The Future Of Higher Education

What, where, and how will we learn?

The future of higher education is a constantly moving target.


Everything from the emergence of MOOCs to new learning styles and mounting financial and sustainability pressures are impacting the education landscape. Every day higher education leaders are developing new strategies to leverage across these developing challenges and opportunities.

The common denominator amidst all this change: students. What should they learn? How can institutions best attract them? How do you best empower their learning? How do you keep them safe? What do they value? These aren’t new questions but the answers are shifting rapidly. The questions are also becoming more critical for our educational institutions given the National Center for Education Statistics report revealing in 2012, for the first time in three decades, demographics predicted a diminishing population for college age students in the United States.

The University of Utah’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute will unite 412 residences with a 20,000-square-foot “garage” space for students to gather, build prototypes, and launch companies.

Here are five bold predictions for how the answers to those questions will define the future of education.


1: Academic Curricula Will Become More Multi-Disciplinary

Current models–reliant upon departmental space where curriculum is developed and fostered independent of the university at large–must change. Today’s students demand cross-disciplinary learning and thinking, particularly in science, engineering, and technology. This cross-disciplinary learning demand is manifesting itself in buildings that seek to be academies of tomorrow and entrepreneurial hubs focused on bringing business and creative minds together. Colleges and universities need to think about how these space changes serve as curriculum drivers.

Examples of this can be found in our project at the University of Utah where they are developing a transformative entrepreneurial building where students can create, live and “launch” companies all in the same space. Elsewhere, we worked with the University at Buffalo partnered with Kaleida Health to create a one-of-a-kind facility that brings their academic research center into the same building as a global vascular institute. Incubator spaces within this building extend beyond the notion of “fusion” and empower students to utilize design thinking as a means to create solutions, solve problems and make jobs not take jobs.

2: Education Leaders Will Need To Balance MOOCs and Traditional Learning

Amidst the ongoing discussion relative to online education over the past few years, it is important to remember higher education institutions don’t need to choose between online learning and traditional learning–they need to find the right balance. Recent research shows a fifth of Chief Academic Officers (CAOs) don’t feel online education is strongly represented in their institutions’ long-term strategies, even though they believe it should be. At the same time, new statistics also reveal that while distance education has been growing at a faster rate than traditional higher education ever since 2003, that rate of growth is beginning to slow.


The truth is neither education delivery model is intrinsically better than the other. Universities need to strategically balance both platforms and also think about how they support the never-ending, 24/7 nature of today’s learning that extends beyond the classroom. Institutions that begin to best leverage an appropriate balance can make better use of time in the classroom and also define tailored approaches to how the professor, student and material work together across the platforms.

The University at Buffalo entered into an innovative partnership with Kaleida Health, resulting in a building that stacks their clinical translational research center above Kaleida’s Global Vascular Institute. Credit: Tim WIlkes

3: Student Recruitment and Retention Will Be More Important Than Ever

To best recruit and retain students, universities need to evaluate how they offer a student life experience that prepares students to be healthy and dynamic people in the future. That means universities need to embrace sustainability and wellness as key components to campus life. Spelman College recently differentiated itself by diverting all of its athletic funding to create a “Wellness Revolution,” focused on best promoting the health of its students.

Scores of other universities are realizing students value their life experience just as much as their academic experience. This is pushing universities to find creative ways to fund new spaces and programming for students. The key here is strategically providing students with key resources that give them more opportunity to make the most of their collegiate life experience.


4: Higher Education Needs To Invest in Technology

Today’s students aren’t just bringing their own technology devices to the classroom, they’re also bringing them to the student center, the gym and the dining hall. This increased use places greater demands on a campus IT infrastructure. Universities seeking to solve today’s challenges will need to respond with robust access and bandwidth upgrades. At the same time, institutions needs to respond to the “mobility shift” which allows educators and students to be nimble and engaged from anywhere.

Additionally, the education community needs to think about how the emergence of augmented reality devices from Google Glass to Oculus will transform campuses. These devices bring powerful questions related to how they enable students and teachers to maximize the educational experience. Moreover, all of the thinking relative to technology investments needs to also consider security–as the cyber security attack at the University of Maryland earlier this year revealed, universities need to balance empowering students with keeping them safe.

5: Higher Education Will Explore New Funding Models

The historic practice of providing funding to state institutions based on enrollment is already shifting to performance-based models. These models will redirect educational priorities and investment to help more students succeed while also redefining an institution’s responsibility to its students and its community. While the performance model discussions are more apparent for the state–funded institutions, their impact may extend further as it pertains to incubation, research and corporate support. Already, these systems are gaining momentum and leaders need to be highly involved with their build-out.


There’s no magic button to press to ensure education institutions success in the future. But, those seeking to differentiate themselves and best attract and empower students need to think about these issues and react immediately.


About the author

Brad Lukanic is the Executive Director of CannonDesign’s global education practice, focused on helping educational institutions design solutions that turn challenges into opportunities for success.