Trends in American Higher Education

5 Higher-Education Trends for 2014

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

A number of education trends made their mark in 2013, from massive open online courses to evaluating colleges based on their graduation rates. The underlying forces that drove change this year aren't likely to change anytime soon: declining public funding, changing demographics, advancing technology, and a tough job market.

Here are five trends we'll be watching next year, with special attention to how they affect minority and at-risk students.

Earning College Credit for What You Know

The Obama administration, state governments, and foundation funders are all pressuring colleges to shrink the time it takes for students to graduate. Two strategies for doing so gained attention this year: advancing students based on mastery, and giving students credit for work experience.

The fancy term for the first strategy is "competency-based learning, " and it works best online. Students move through course material at their own pace, their test scores—not time in class—determining how quickly they move through the material. At Western Governors' University, an online institution that pioneered this structure almost 20 years ago, students earn bachelor's degrees two years faster than the national average. This year, the University of Wisconsin system started offering a competency-based option.

Another strategy is "prior learning assessment, " whereby students get college credit for on-the job and military training, volunteer experience, and hobbies. Credit is usually granted through placement tests, assessments of student portfolios, or according to the American Council on Education's recommendations. Some employers and colleges—like Starbucks and City University of Seattle—have struck up partnerships that allow employees to earn college credit for workplace training.

Career and Technical Education

After years of being pushed aside to free time for academics, career-focused learning is back. High schools, community colleges, and companies are banding together to help increase the opportunities students have to gain technical skills—often spurred by new state laws, like those in Texas and Georgia, that put a bigger emphasis on career and technical education.

Policymakers stress the economic benefits of CTE: Students with specialized training or skills find it easier to get hired in this tough labor market. Educators like that CTE can help get more students excited about math and science. Given that CTE and college preparation no longer have to be divergent paths, college costs are rising, and it remains hard for young people to find work, there's much less political opposition to career training than there used to be. The Next America recently profiled a majority-minority school in Georgia that illustrates this new vision for career and techinical education.

Student-Loan Outrage

Seventy-one percent of students who graduated from college in 2012 carry student-loan debt, some as much as $49, 000 for a four-year degree. A recent Harvard Institute of Politics poll found that 42 percent of students blame colleges and universities for rising college prices.

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Is there any data on trends in capital expenditure in higher education?

I've often wondered how much the rise in expanded facilities has played a role in higher education's costs.  When I started at Georgia Tech as an undergrad, most of the buildings were relatively old and dumpy; and now, 13 years later, most of the buildings on campus are new, the library has replaced tiny desks for studying with HDTVs, and the athletic complex is world-class.  This appears to be a very common experience.  However, at least some of it is donated rather than being sourced from student funds.
I've found a few college budgets online, but I'm interested in seeing capital expen…

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