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10 Things You Won’t See in the College of the Future

by Staff Writers

Higher education seems to be at a crossroads these days, as the cost of college continues to shoot sky high and students are increasingly finding (and demanding) more flexible learning opportunities — like online universities — carefully tailored curriculum, and more. The college we know today is not likely to be the college that future students will know tomorrow, and we’re already seeing big signs of change in the works. While a lot of new features are likely to be added to the college experience, some will undoubtedly go by the wayside, including these ten almost fundamental elements of college that are slowly being replaced.

  1. A physical campus

    This should come as no surprise to most people, as the trend toward online colleges only continues to grow. So many students are turning to online studies as a way to keep costs down and fit school into their busy lives, a move that someday just might make the college campus extinct. We can’t quite see anyone signing off on the bulldozing of Harvard, but students are increasingly flocking to online schools that can offer lower tuition, in part because they don’t have to maintain a large physical campus. The Christian Science Monitor shares American Distance Education Consortium president Dr. Janet Poley’s idea that education may be evolving into a "home institution model," which allows students to take introductory courses online, but still go to campus for more important courses, like those in their specific field of study, as well as grad school.

  2. Heavy, expensive textbooks

    Long lines at the campus bookstore, huge bills, and buckling backpacks are a familiar experience for college students who are used to buying textbooks for school. The average college student spends about $900 each year on new textbooks, but with open source, used books, rental books, and especially e-books, that cost can go down dramatically, with estimates from $184 per year to $598 each year. Digital open textbooks, in particular, are intriguing, as they offer students the ability to print off pages as needed, ultimately saving paper, ink, and money when pages are not necessary, while at the same time lightening their load as they trek across campus. E-books are a similarly exciting possibility for students of the future, who someday may be able to simply use a laptop or iPad to access books, journals, and other reading materials necessary for their courses.

  3. Credit hours

    Students today are intimately familiar with credit hours, the defined amount of time that a course is taught, and the required amount of "seat time" that students must participate in to earn credit for that particular course. Once the right number of specified credits is reached, a student can then earn their degree. But educational futurists point out that the college of the future may instead be focused more on achievement outcomes than time spent studying, with time as a variable and learning as a constant. In this type of system, students would be able to spend the amount of time that they individually need to complete an assignment and achieve a necessary outcome. For some students, that would be less than the defined credit hours, for others, it may be more. It should be noted that this shift will also change the idea of a two-year or four-year degree, which may be shortened or lengthened according to the individual students’ needs.

  4. Four-year degrees

    A shorter time in school means fewer fees, and a jump start into the job market, which can both make a big difference in the financial lives of young students. Colleges worldwide, particularly in Europe, have embraced a three-year college degree, and the popularity of these degrees has also recently reached the US. Joni Finney, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education points out the benefit of these degrees: "It’s an option that makes sense for public schools because it would reduce the cost to students, reduce the cost to the institution, and create room for other well-prepared students to go into those spots." At Hartwick College in New York, a three-year bachelor’s degree program saves $43,975 for each student. The path to completing Hartwick’s three-year degree doesn’t sound too bad, either: one additional class each semester, and classes during the college’s optional January term. Three-year degrees are not yet widespread in the US, but as more students and colleges begin to see the benefit, we can expect a much higher rate of adoption.

  5. Football teams

    College football fans, we have a hard truth for you: most of your beloved teams are not at all profitable, and in fact are a drain on the schools they’re attached to. Sure, they contribute to the pride and profile of a university, provide scholarships, and of course, hours of entertainment and trash talk, but the fact is that big time athletics come with big time bills, and most programs don’t even make enough to pay them. In 2009, only 14 of the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools made any money from campus athletics. This, in a world where schools are increasing tuition in record numbers, and faculty and staff suffer layoffs and pay caps. Pair that with the fact that football coaches’ salaries often outpace their own college presidents by 3 or even 5 times, it’s amazing that schools let football programs get away with what they do. Despite the love the world (or at least the US) seems to have for college football, the sport does have its detractors, who point out that institutional subsidies for athletics are increasingly coming under scrutiny, and high profile commentators, including Steven Salzberg from Forbes are calling to get football out of our universities. In the future, schools just might.

  1. One size fits all studies

    To learn about the college of the future, we need to go back a bit into the past. In 2007, The Independent questioned what colleges of the future might look like, getting lots of insight from Michael Heppell, author of Future Proof Your College. In this article, Heppell shared that individual learning is going to become "increasingly important" as students begin to crave and demand instruction that specifically fits the kind of learning they’re looking for. Heppell points out, information can be easily found with a simple Google search these days, but students can find true value in education that is specifically tailored to their needs. That means that in the future, instead of enrolling in a local college’s next business administration course, you would be able to request instructional lessons in business administration that you can specifically apply to your career. This prediction for the future seems to go right along with the aforementioned "home institution model" put forth by Dr. Janet Poley, allowing for foundational courses to be offered online, while tailored instruction is saved for the campus.

  2. Sprawling infrastructure

    In a blog post about building the college of the future, editorial director of the Chronicle of Higher Education Jeff Selingo considers what he might do if he had the opportunity to start a college from scratch. Selingo questions the need for "dozens of buildings that are mostly empty at night, on weekends, and during the summer," preferring instead to consider which buildings are really essential. Specifically, Selingo points out that maybe not every faculty member needs an office (or perhaps shared desks could be a solution), and both the number of classroom buildings and library size should be carefully scrutinized when considerations of filling empty land come up in the college design of the future.

  3. Dormitories

    Considering all of the above, students of the future may find that there’s not much left to keep them on campus. Shorter degrees, which may also include a heavy load of online courses, will drastically reduce the amount of time that students need to be physically at school. Cut out football, physical office hours for professors (ditched in favor of Google+ Hangouts), and the idea of "credit hours," and the amount of time on campus goes down even further. Students of the future may not need to visit campus on a regular basis at all, some checking in briefly just once or twice a week for tailored courses, or even not at all, working on a completely remote basis, a practice with which today’s online students are already familiar. Without a reason to be constantly on campus, it’s not hard to imagine that tomorrow’s students may not need dorms at all. Like the ideas of abandoning the sprawling campus and college football, it’s a little shocking, but dorm-less schools are certainly something we might be seeing in the future. Futurists, along with the Washington Post, have made the prediction that the college students of today "may be part of the last generation for which ‘going to college’ means packing up, getting a dorm room and listening to tenured professors," an idea that is both sad and exciting at the same time.

  4. Single-campus professors

    Futurist speaker Thomas Frey sees a coming declaration of independence from professors, who instead of being tenured and tied to one university, might decide to work for multiple institutions at once. As they break away from single institutions, professors and courses themselves would be accredited and float from campus to campus (even virtually) with their selected course offerings. This idea is not only freeing for professors, but students as well. Students from multiple institutions would be able to learn from great professors, improving the quality of education available, and allowing the best teachers to rise to the top. According to Frey, this also works with the idea that great professors might share their knowledge through syndication, reaching even more students, and perhaps even turning professors into educational rock stars in the same way that syndication has helped so many radio talk show hosts, newspaper cartoonists, and columnists become famous.

  5. Single-class meetings

    Thomas Frey’s idea of syndicated education is one that MSN Money has touched on as well, as the trend of increasingly on-demand, personalized education continues. MSN‘s Zephyr Teachout, associate professor of law at Fordham University, believes that offline, prepackaged education will someday seem ridiculous, and even the idea of attending a single university at a time might someday be a bit strange. Teachout shares that soon, we might be able to take classes from a variety of universities, while playing mix and match to meet degree requirements. Perhaps the biggest idea that Teachout shares in this particular realm is that single class sessions can be used to make up the curriculum in a number of different courses. She offers the idea that an hour long discussion on the French Revolution could be applied in both a "French History" and "History of Revolutions" courses. This idea is intriguing, and makes us wonder if tomorrow’s professors might not necessarily be lecturers, but instead, curators who expertly share the most relevant speakers for any given subject.