‘Tis the season for predictions. There is something about the end of the year that brings out one’s inner astrologer. For fun, let’s push the timeframe out further than 365 days, and consider the fate of the American university, circa 2024.
Some may claim that the decay has already set in (i.e., poor student quality; computer-aided grading; staff reductions; contracting out) but what will be wrought in ten years’ time?
Student body. Incoming freshman will be woefully prepared for what was known heretofore as “college-level” work. Colleges will be offering more remedial work, and four years of college will have more in common with the high school experience of 1984 than the college experience of 2014. The reliance on computers and other devices will leave this generation of scholars with shockingly under developed motor skills. For instance, the act of holding a pencil and squiggling a line will be beyond the capacity of many, but never fear, this is not a skill that will be valued. Having a dexterous and calloused index finger will be the mark of a true brain. (New terminology is in order, as “index” is a remnant of another era.)
Traditional assignments (i.e., term papers, essays, oral exams) will be replaced by perfunctory multiple-choice final exams that can be administered on a smarty phone and graded electronically. The underlying assumption is that students will have to make some effort, however modest, at learning. Although more progressive institutions will dispense with grading altogether, and offer a diploma after a suitable interval after the transfer payment is made or the check clears.
Student loans. Student loans will be largely transfer payments between the Fed and the individual colleges. As such, there will be no motivation to cap tuition rates. Due to a stroke of bureaucratic genius, students will still be on the hook for a lifetime of payments (i.e., taxes), even if they (or their parents) were able to pay full tuition up front (in the name of “fairness”, everyone must be burdened).
Professors. Most of the baby-boomers will be shown the door, implicitly or explicitly. The few left with tenure will have long ago abandoned any ideas of shared governance. It is hard to make the meetings when you’re working from home.
Star professors will be made into holograms, and while the professors may think they have the freedom to move to a better location or for a higher salary, they will find that they are little better than indentured servants. Their images will be property of their home university, and can be shared (for a price) with other schools. The technology will be such that the professor will have an eternal academic life, and will live on after his or her natural death (yet another avenue of cost savings).
Curriculum. With improvements in online teaching, curriculum and course syllabi will be uniform (Common Core 2.0?). There will be no quirky offerings that satisfy an individual professor’s research interests. By confining learning to an artificial frame designed by so-called experts will spell the End of Knowledge, at least in an academic setting.
Federal grants. The government will give up the charade of awarding grants. Instead, block grants will be given to each university based on a number of criteria. These grants will be folded into the student tuition transfer payments. Having a dedicated income stream, with a guaranteed 3.5 percent annual increase, is enough to put the mind of many a university president at ease.
Administration. The ruling class of the university will continue to grow. There is no limit to the number of vice provost, vice president, assistant dean, and associate dean positions that can be created.
Staff. University staff—those in the middle and on the lower end of the totem pole—will become extinct. With changes in curriculum, course delivery, and grading practices, there will be no need for support staff for professors or their departments. There will be a greater reliance on outside contractors, not only in providing services to dining and campus life, but also to libraries, facilities management, and fiscal/finance/budgeting.
Now, back to you, dear reader. What are your predictions for the future of higher education for 2024?