Learning in 2025
The New College Experience
The quad. The dorms. The lecture hall. The food. The lifelong friendships. The parties. The cap and gown. The job offer. “The College Experience” has always been the stuff of legend, but in the future, it may be pure myth. Even among groups for whom the traditional college track has been accessible, new value sets, economic constraints and opportunities, changing ideas of life stages, and emergent technologies are making this version of higher education untenable and undesirable for many learners. In a society where learners are of every age and background hold wildly individualized passions and skills, and live in an increasingly smart and connected world, THE College Experience will be a thing of the past.
Flip The Story
Institutions have always set the terms for learning, and some students have lived on the fringes, either by choice or because they simply didn’t fit in. Those learners – whether a free spirit who pursued her own path or a first-generation student who struggled to make it work in the lecture hall – have been told to conform but, increasingly, the pressure is on institutions to make space for everyone, to abandon their expedient, exclusive, one-size-fits-all approach. In the future, can universities add value not by calling the shots but by providing tailored opportunities that meet student needs? Signals of change indicate it’s possible, if students and advocates are willing to work to address the power imbalance that makes us believe we need to fit the system, and not the other way around.
Signals of Change
- College enrollments are down ; college closures and alternative paths to credentials are up. Some of this is due to an improving economy (when older students will work instead of pursuing a degree), but smaller colleges are also having trouble recruiting traditional students.
- Fewer students believe college is worth the cost.
- Effort after effort after effort fails to get high school students into and through college, and graduation rates for the most vulnerable students are not encouraging.
- Learners may no longer need the institution to tell them what to learn or to issue them a degree.
- Some employers are ready to sidestep the college degree altogether.
- Some advocates are ready to start from scratch.
What if “college is not for everyone” was not a judgment of students and but a call to action for universities?