Predictions for higher education worldwide for 2021

In 2005, my white paper, Ten Trends in Higher Education, was published and I predicted the following for United States colleges and universities:

• Higher education providers will become more numerous and diverse.

• Part-time college attendance will increase and colleges and universities will offer classes in the evening and at the weekend.

• An increasing number of higher education institutions will work in partnership with employers to meet workforce needs.

• Telecommunications options will become standard practice, with students taking classes at home, on campus, everywhere, all the time.

• Women, minorities and adult learners will dominate future higher education enrolments.

• Federal and state funding for colleges and universities will decrease.

• Technological capabilities will encourage the rise of global universities.

• International students will continue to come to the US, but the mix of students will change, with more students coming from Asia and fewer from Europe.

• The US will compete with several other countries for the internationally mobile student.

• Traditional colleges and universities will not disappear in the future, but they will change organisationally and will be managed differently. Administrative positions will be added, as will athletic programmes and extracurricular ‘comforts’, ie food courts and rock climbing facilities.

I think you would agree that, without exception, the predictions I made in 2005 are today’s higher education realities.

Predictions for mid-2010s

In 2014, I wrote another white paper on worldwide trends in higher education for students worldwide and made the following predictions:

• Technology will be the greatest disruptor of higher education over the next five years.

• A diverse student body will demand a more flexible educational delivery system, including flexibility on when and where courses are taught, how students register for classes and how much tuition is charged.

• Incoming students will bring accepted credits from International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement courses and certain MOOCs (massive open online courses).

• The autumn and spring semester system will become a thing of the past. Students will attend classes throughout the year and will create a ‘third’ semester during the summer months.

• Most students will have transcripts from more than one college and university.

• Colleges and universities will ‘buy’ online courses from each other.

• Strategic enrolment plans will include input from the directors of career counselling and alumni affairs.

• Accreditation criteria will change with more focus on outcomes.

Again, I think we can agree that these predictions have come to pass.

Going forward

My predictions for higher education worldwide in 2021 and beyond are:

• Students, faculty and staff will travel with Digital Health passports, verifying their COVID-19 test results.

• Students will enrol in colleges and universities with well-established health protocols.

• Students will attend school year-round in some combination of online and in person instruction.

• Credit-bearing, gap year programmes will increase worldwide.

• Students will be admitted year-round and will be notified of admission decisions as soon as their applications are complete.

• An increasing proportion of higher education enrolments will come from company-sponsored, short-term certificate programmes and boot camps.

• Enrolments in Google Career Certificates and Microsoft’s global skills initiative, among others, will increase.

• Vision planning will co-exist with and complement strategic planning.

• Higher education institutions will hire chief innovation officers charged with implementing vision plans.

• Consumer behaviour will be incorporated into all future strategic plans.

• Career counselling will begin before enrolment and extend throughout enrolment and after graduation. Colleges and universities will embrace a 10-year acceptance, matriculation and graduation plan for students.

• Graduation counsellors (formerly called registrars) will map out all of the multi-year courses necessary for graduation prior to a student’s matriculation.

• Financial aid and debt counsellors will provide estimates of costs and debt prior to enrolment.

• Transcripts will list competencies earned in courses along with grades.

• Students will graduate having done at least one internship.

• Antiquated higher education business models will be replaced with differential pricing structures.

• Virtual recruitment and admitted student events, as well as faculty and staff conferences, and faculty and staff meetings, will supplement in-person interactions.

• Some colleges and universities will cease operations. Others will merge with both national and international partners.

• International student mobility will become more localised, within regions and continents.

• Geopolitical rivalry between the US and China will impact future international student enrolments.

It would be simplistic to blame these 20 predictions on the pandemic. Many of these predictions were already trending. COVID-19 accelerated, but did not cause, many of the changes and disruptions higher education is likely to experience in 2021 and beyond.

And this list of predictions is by no means complete – and reflects more administrative disruptions than academic ones.

But let’s check in at the end of the year and assess which of them were accurate and which were not.

Marguerite Dennis is an internationally recognised expert in international student recruitment, enrolment and retention. She has more than 25 years of experience consulting with colleges and universities in the United States and around the world.