2022 Projection: For those who are willing to take risks and who aren’t afraid to innovate and invest in their institutions, the future is extremely bright. You can’t cut yourself or save yourself into prosperity. 2022 is going to be a big year for education.
The pandemic has forced many changes in every sector. What are some of the biggest changes in higher education?
One of the things the pandemic has disproven is we thought higher education was going to be so disrupted by technology that the demand for in-person experiences would be diminished over time. But what we’re seeing in our traditional student demographic is a rising demand for in-person interactive experiences. They are students who want the option for a hybrid approach, but there is a pent-up demand for one-on-one interaction. We’re seeing record applications.
Outside of the pandemic, what are the greatest challenges facing education and how are universities meeting them?
The next big challenge is the demographic shift that’s occurring. With the number of high school graduates declining on the Eastern and Western seaboard, the result of that will be increasing competition, intensification of competition, growing scarcity of students. The demand for nontraditional, continuing and professional education is always higher in a recession. We are expanding in new market shares geographically, in the sectors that we’re appealing to and the diversity of our offerings. We have implemented in the last few years a lot more certification programs and speed-to-degree programs. We’re opening new sites all the time (from) the pressure to deliver what students are demanding. They are smart consumers in the types of experience they’re looking for. Fortunately for Springfield, we have four really good institutions that serve different missions.
With changing demands in the workforce and discussions about rising student-loan debts, how are universities adapting to remain relevant and worthwhile?
It’s always been the case that some people can get by without a traditional degree. Only about 27% of the U.S. population has bachelor’s degrees. Responding to our markets and to the changes in demands in the workforce is something we’re also sensitive to. But we’re also careful that we’re not training people to be buggy-whip makers. The world moves so fast, the best thing education can give you is to learn how to learn. The ability to adapt, innovate – these are the soft skills that last a lifetime. I think people confuse training for education. You need practical skills, but you need to have the kind of grounding in the ability to think creatively, to write well. That’s where we’re seeing the largest demand from employers. Student loan debt is interesting because you don’t want to disincentivize people (with debt) but you want to give them the opportunity to be able to have enough funds to graduate and do well. We have an obligation to do right by our students, to help them think through things like compound interest and the effects of long-term debt. Our role is not to just lend money.
What’s the ongoing impact of rapidly changing technology?
It’s led to innovation and creativity on the part of the faculty. The interesting thing about tech learning is to think about what’s the next really big, audacious thing? If you combine (artificial intelligence) with learning with avatars and holographic simulations, I think the interesting thing is to try to think about what our world might look like in the next five years to 10 years.
Shoppers who head to Battlefield Mall for holiday gifts have a new option that doesn’t require gift wrap and won’t take up much trunk space.