Innovation

The future of college: 10 alternative pathways in higher education

Despite advances in technology, most colleges and universities still operate using traditional models. Here are 10 alternative routes to help schools integrate classrooms with the digital world.

Todd Zipper
Image: Jason Hiner/TechRepublic

"There's a lot that's broken in higher education," said Todd Zipper, president and CEO of Learning House, at "Reimagining College: Higher Education in the 21st Century." As part of IdeaFestival 2015 in Louisville, Kentucky, this program on Tuesday brought together more than a dozen educators, students, and thought-leaders to explore the future of college. The exorbitant cost of college combined with a rapidly changing job market and the growth of online education and skill-based learning begs the question: Is college worth it?

"The pain decibel is changing," Zipper said. "Higher education doesn't evolve as quickly as other industries. It's moving like a supertanker; it'll take time." As the head of Learning House, a company that helps colleges build online programs, Zipper offered his list of alternative pathways in higher education.

1. Competency-Based Education (CBE)

There's new focus on skill-based learning as a way to measure aptitude. Last year, only 52 schools experimented with this. Now, there are 600.

2. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course)

This has been an amazing experiment, Zipper said. Some of the best institutions are using it. Yet, the business model is still unclear. There have become "MOOC-like substances"—programs like Coursera. Arizona State is offering freshman to take their first full year online for fraction of the cost. Zipper also worries about how to scale the student to teacher ratio.

3. Learning camps and 'nano-degrees'

Academic boot camps, coding camps, and other educational camps are increasingly becoming a way to teach skills quickly. These "nano-degree" programs, such as Code Louisville, which teaches coding skills, and others offer people a way to quickly learn the tools they need for specific jobs or projects. But will these programs find a place beyond software development? Zipper has his doubts.

4. Start earlier

More students are opting to start getting credits earlier, in high school, to speed up earning their degree and save money.

5. Education-business collaboration

Many schools are teaming up with businesses to help students apply their skills in the workplace. West Virgina State, Arizona State, Southern New Hampshire, and others are experimenting with this. It's a great way for both parties to gain, bringing down the cost of education, tailoring curriculum, and helping the companies at the same time.

6. Pathway for international students

There are programs to bring international students in that now generate $1 billion in revenue to have foreign students to come in and study. These programs are more common abroad than they are in the US, and they provide English skills for international students. The goal is to bring a diversity of thought and experience into the US.

7. Curated degrees

The concept is making it easier to piece together one degree with credits from different sources, such as military service, community colleges, and more.

8. Digital transcripts

Zipper still believes in degrees, but thinks that there are better ways to express skills on a transcript. A big player in this is a company called Parchment—they work with 1,670 colleges and universities, including 225 or so community colleges. These kinds of transcripts can include other professional skills as well.

9. Stackable certificates

These allow students to hold on to professional certificates and credentials they receive for future use, essentially "building" their degree using separate chunks of their education. This helps keep their qualifications relevant, even if the subject of their degree is out of date.

10. Reverse transfer

This is a process that allows students to transfer their credits from a four-year program back to a community college. This way, if they don't finish their bachelor's degree, they won't lose credit for the work they've already completed—they can use it towards earning an associate's degree.

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About Hope Reese

Hope Reese is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers the intersection of technology and society, examining the people and ideas that transform how we live today.

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