Community Colleges and The Future of Higher Education

Institutions of higher education are in a similar position to Blockbuster before the rise of Netflix, according to Jeff Selingo, a contributing editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

However, community colleges may be better positioned than four years university to adapt.

Selingo gave a presentation at The College of Saint Rose on Tuesday, Oct. 7 that identified many of the top trends in higher education and how many institutions are struggling to break from traditional models to adjust to a rapidly changing landscape.

Among these potentially disruptive trends are the rise of technology and online courses, a larger non-traditional student population, a changing workforce, and increasing debt for both students and colleges.

“Most colleges have a one size fits all model. Schools should stop serving one segment of the population,” said Selingo.

The challenges of the changing field are most acute for four year universities. They have higher tuition and are more likely to perpetuate the model of students coming directly from high school and getting a bachelors degree four years later.

Colleges will have to change with the times, according to Selingo. “Instead of being one physical place you go to one time in your life they will be platforms for learning, unlearning, and relearning over the course of a lifetime.”

Community colleges are already serving a broader student population and may be able to adapt to changes in higher education more rapidly.

Hudson Valley President Drew Matonak is optimistic about the college’s role in the uncertain future of higher education. “The reason we have community colleges is because we have the ability to react to the changing landscape,” he said.

“The rate of change is much greater now than ever,” said Matonak.

In Selingo’s presentation, he talked about many organizations that are innovating in higher education including Coursera, EdX, the Minerva Project, and General Assembly.

“The enterprise of higher education is actually the strongest it has ever been around the world,” said Selingo.

While a wider variety of options are being provided for learners around the world, most universities are using essentially the same model as they have for decades.

Hudson Valley, like colleges across the country, has integrated technology into its curriculum at a fast pace in recent years. Registrants for online courses at Hudson Valley has increased from 4,873 in fall 2008 to 8,302 in fall 2013. During the same period students taking exclusively distance learning courses has increased from 952 to 1,341.

Many Hudson Valley courses have some online component, through blackboard. Other student services, like registering for classes, have also moved to the internet.

Matonak said, “If you look for a sweet spot with regard to online education it’s blending the technology with the personal interaction with faculty members.”

Distance learning offers an opportunity to people who could otherwise not make it to campus. For example, a couple years ago there was a student at Hudson Valley who was married to an active duty member of the military. She was only course short of graduating had to move on short notice when her husband was relocated. Hudson Valley was able to put a class online that was previously not offered for distance learning by holding class in a point to point location in BTC and streaming it live. She eventually attended graduation that spring from hundreds of miles away through  live video streaming.

It is these types of people, non-traditional students, that Hudson Valley and community colleges have experience in serving while traditional universities do not.

“That’s the kind of flexibility you need to be able to provide,” said Matonak.

About 6,000 students at Hudson Valley are part time and about 25 percent are over the age of 25. If universities need to start serving more than one segment of the population, as Selingo said, then community colleges need to also continue doing just that.

Another topic Selingo discussed was colleges as job trainers. “We’re at a bigger gap than ever before in what the job market and economy are providing and what colleges are producing. We have a tension between the practical arts and the liberal arts,” he said.

Community colleges play a unique role in addressing this problem as well. They are much more locally connected than universities and are able to alter their programs to adjust to the job market. “We’ve been very responsive to businesses and industry,” said Matonak.

Recently, biotech company Regeneron partnered with Hudson Valley to train employees.

The student population at universities don’t stay in the local area at the same rate of community colleges, so schools like Hudson Valley have an advantage in connecting a higher portion of graduates with employers.

Obtaining a good job after graduating gives value to the college education. “The next ten years will be all about defining value in higher education,” said Selingo.

With lower tuition and a more diverse student population, community colleges may be at an advantage moving forward in providing value to large numbers of people. Many types of students also creates a demand that schools like Hudson Valley provide a wide range of options. This may allow community colleges to adjust quickly to the changing landscape, because they are already so far-flung.

“It’s going to be a consumer driven kind of situation. Our students will tell us what they need and how they need it,” said Matonak.


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