New models, vocations emerging for higher education

When it comes to higher education in the U.S., past is not prologue.

When it comes to higher education in the U.S., past is not prologue.

In the 20th century, enrollments surged because of a rising population, dramatic increases in high school graduation rates and increases in the percentage of high school graduates attending college.

Post-secondary education came in essentially two sizes: two-year community colleges and four-year colleges and universities. Essentially, while it wasn’t exactly one size fits all, it was pretty close. The future will be very different.

In just the past 20 years, we’ve seen a morphing of higher education into a fragmented landscape, with many more specialized offerings designed for specific sub-groups, or segments.

Highly selective colleges, such as my own, Muhlenberg College, continue to offer an immersive, residential model based on close collaboration between students with strong academic abilities and a superb faculty.

Many talented students continue to select this model of higher education because, while it is not inexpensive, it offers a life-transforming educational experience. This kind of college education features broad and deep engagement within a curriculum shaped largely around the liberal arts, including the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities and the arts.

Along with extensive co-curricular programs – including intercollegiate athletics, performing arts and other student activities – this residential model prepares students with the essential skills and networks they’ll need to succeed in the creative economy that has emerged globally.

Of course, a similar kind of education is available at larger private universities and public flagships, where the classes generally are much larger.

Also, for students who want to focus more narrowly in applied technical areas, there are many fine undergraduate engineering programs at four-year universities.

More and more alternatives to these models have arisen, however, and the future is certain to be one in which different groups of students will seek out models of education tailored more or less precisely to their personal aspirations and budgets.

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