Higher Education at a Crossroads
In the 1890s, retail was dominated by local general stores. With U.S. mail’s increased speed and efficiency, two entrepreneurs decided to produce a new, also unfamiliar concept, selling products in a catalog. The Sears Catalog was born, and this nice innovative approach allowed them to maintain greater inventory, reduce costs of goods, and give access to more customers than the familiar general stores. By 1989, Sears Roebuck & Co. had become the biggest retailer in the U.S. (1), operating more than 3,500 physical stores in addition to their catalog business (2). All it took was an innovative idea.
Ironically, only ten years later, many brick and mortar retailers would be too slow to recognize new opportunities in the market – coming from the Internet. The web gave consumers greater access, choice, and price visibility. By the late 1990s, upstart online retailers became the “Sears catalog” of their generation – with their lower-priced items and data-driven, personalized experiences. Many brick and mortar stores insisting on using traditional tactics began a long, slow decline to irrelevance in the market. Some were forced to close their doors permanently.
Much like brick and mortar retailers at the dawn of the Internet, Higher Education institutions are at similar crossroads, brought on by advanced technology. They should use the story of retail as inspiration to better serve their changing constituents.
With technological advancements disrupting most industries, companies and organizations across the world realize that they must urgently transform to stay relevant. Technology has caused students, faculty, and staff to not only rethink how common tasks should be approached, but how the whole system should evolve. Like other industries, Higher Education institutions now face a crossroads of unprecedented opportunity – knowing that many will likely face irrelevance if they do not innovate quickly. These institutions must recognize new, available opportunities and shift their campus towards innovative practices.
Transformation Driven by Future of Work
These innovative practices can be fostered through a Future of Work (FOW) lens. With changing advancements on the way consumers interact, many organizations address the following FOW questions: “WHAT” work can be automated, “WHO” can do the work, and “WHERE” will the work be done (3)?
In addition, Higher Education also needs to address another question, “HOW” can a campus prepare students for the work of the future? Answering these questions helps shed light on four disruptions facing Higher Education and the innovative opportunities each presents.
1. Next Generation Technology is Everywhere
As we progress through the Fourth Industrial Revolution, next generation technologies will play a disruptive role in transformation. Innovations like artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, machine learning, the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual and augmented reality, high-speed Internet, and high-tech sensors will be leveraged by leading industries and businesses who want to meet the demands of a changing marketplace.
According to Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends Report, 81% of respondents expect the use of AI to increase significantly over the next three years and 66% expect to reskill current employees due to automation (4).
However, the percentage of AI being used in Higher Education is significantly less. According to Susan Grajek, Vice President of Communities and Research at EDUCAUSE, AI is influencing IT Strategy at only about 13 percent of colleges and universities (5).
Opportunity of Next Generation Technologies
The prominent Higher Education model has not changed in centuries. Students still typically gather in large lecture rooms with little of the deep interaction that many of them want and need. Additionally, most college administrations still function with outdated processes, requiring students to follow inefficient, manual methods of service (as any student who has navigated campus to wait in a physical line would likely tell you).
As digital natives, we all experience smart technologies in our daily lives – the way we interact with airline companies, banks, and retail has vastly changed, yet in Higher Education the adoption of innovative practices have been stifled. And when institutions do adopt technology; they often replicate old antiquated processes in a new system instead of rethinking their approach entirely.
Institutions should leverage next-generation technologies to create a “digitally connected,” smart campus – making communication easier, manual processes faster, learning more interactive, and experiences more enjoyable.
Imagine If …
- Admissions decisions took 24 hours instead of months.
- Attendance was auto recorded when students walk into a classroom.
- AI could recommend and schedule a students’ classes, based on personal preferences, needs, and history.
2. Tsunami of Data
Living in a digitally connected ecosystem, data is everywhere. The sheer volume and the speed in which data is collected is creating a Tsunami of Data. The ones that can ride the tidal wave and thrive in today’s market are those that harvest data for insight. As organizations get more efficient in collecting and analyzing huge caches of information, the better they can manage their businesses, serve their consumers, and rise above their peers. The enormous amount of data is also formulating insight around processes and preferences of constituents. Whether it’s algorithms figuring out what tasks should be performed or initiating nudges to encourage particular behaviors, data is driving how organizations operate.
Opportunity of Tsunami of Data
Data can be used to drive needed transformation on campus to meet the needs of today’s students. Digital natives’ demand for personalized and smart experiences can only be met by systems built on a well-designed data framework. As they manage their campuses, colleges and universities collect enormous amount of data from different systems and connected devices. Harvesting this data would enable institutions to gain insight, pivot offerings, and improve their services to their student body, faculty, staff, and alumni.
Imagine If …
- Advisors were notified when student engagement patterns change and can act to prevent potential issues.
- Faculty and advisors knew which students were more likely to struggle on a specific topic or course and could give them extra support.
3. Focus on Human Essential Skill
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is bringing disruption to the political, economic, and social fabric and it is having an impact on work, workers, and employers as never before (4). Using the available digital capabilities, organizations are innovating new practices, developing new products and services to meet constituent expectations. For this reason, new industries pop up and old ones decline faster than ever. Jobs that exist today likely won’t look the same 10 years from now (or exist at all). As automation, next generation technologies, and machines take on mundane, repeated, and transactional tasks, human-to-human skills will be more important to businesses and employees.
Leaders are placing a higher premium on essential “soft” skills (6):
- 60% on problem solving
- 50% on social skills
- 46% on cognitive abilities
These human essential skills are creating “superjobs” where people complement machines to serve customers more personably and effectively.
According to Deloitte’s 2019 Trends report, to be able to take full advantage of technology, organizations must redesign jobs to focus on finding the human dimension of work.
This will create new roles called “superjobs”: jobs that combine parts of different traditional jobs into integrated roles that leverage the significant productivity and efficiency gains that can arise when people work with technology (4).
Opportunities of Human Essential Skills
The prevailing Higher Education model of this century has been “domain expertise,” where a student focuses on one or two areas of study (majors and minors). As next generation technologies shift how work will be done and who will do it, graduates will need to be well-rounded, especially with skills to manage human elements of the market. They will need to complement the innovative and evolving workplace with social and cognitive skills that cannot be replaced by machines.
It’s important for Higher Education to reinvent with a human focus and create a culture that can be as flexible as the changing marketplace, shifting the traditional education model when needed.
Colleges should weave industry relevant insights into their curriculum to prepare students for applying their human essential skills to a fast-changing world.
Imagine If …
- Students were measured on how well they applied conceptual understanding to real-life situations, not fact retention.
- Curriculum was focused on complementing human essential skills with technical ability.
4. Demographic Diversity
Thanks to changing demographics, the Higher Education student body of today looks vastly different than of the past. New cohorts with diverse backgrounds, ages, and life experiences have more access to universities, and a premium is given to diversity and inclusion.
Economic changes in the U.S. have also resulted in delayed retirement, with more need for retraining. The constant evolution of jobs has shortened regular learning cycles. In fact, today’s average half-life of technical and functional skills is only 2.5-5 years (7). The demographic changes are also driving a rethinking of who, exactly, employers need to engage for work (4).
Opportunity of Demographic Diversity
A larger portion of students have “non-traditional” paths to Higher Education.
According to the Lumina Foundation, more than one-third of college students are 25 or older. And 64% of college students work (40% work full-time) (8).
Institutions should adjust the way they serve the changing student body, with emphasis on making education accessible, available, and flexible. In addition, the perpetual learning model has already influenced the personal development plans of corporations across industries. It will soon seep into Higher Education learning strategies. Institutions who seek to serve a student repeatedly over the course of their lifetime (instead of just 4-6 concentrated years) can fill the new need for perpetual or lifelong learning.
Imagine If …
- Colleges allowed students to create an academic path tailored to their goals and lifestyle.
- Financial burdens could be lessened through corporate partnerships.
- Institutions collaborated with companies to provide perpetual learning for its employees.
Creating Innovative Opportunities in Higher Education
Today’s students are informed consumers empowered with choice – based on purpose, value, and personalized experiences – in almost every facet of life. Faculty and staff also expect an efficient, digital workplace, free from antiquated processes and more time to focus on their students and advancing the mission of their organizations.
For this reason, institutions should reflect on their goals and reshape how they move forward using advancements that other sectors have already made part of their strategies. To enable opportunities, next-generation colleges and universities should…
- Ask “why” they use each process (“we’ve always done it that way” is not an acceptable answer) and refresh obsolete processes with emerging technologies. Revisit outdated policies with innovative practices and end policies that no longer serve a purpose.
- Rethink traditional models with insightful data and redesigned interactions. Adopt practices where next-generation innovations make the campus streamlined and efficient.
- Revolutionize experiences through a digitally connected campus and emphasize personalized engagement.
- Develop curriculum that prepare students for current and future ‘superjobs’ by cultivating lifelong learning and human essential skills. Tailor education models to the needs of each learner.
All of these changes require an innovative mindset that fosters a transformational ecosystem with new, exciting, and relevant experiences for all.
As used here, “Deloitte” means Deloitte Consulting LLP, a subsidiary of Deloitte LLP. Please see www.deloitte.com/us/about for a detailed description of Deloitte’s legal structure. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting.
- Financial Post https://business.financialpost.com/news/retail-marketing/the-long-hard-unprecedented-fall-of-sears-one-of-the-most-monumental-collapses-in-business-history
- Business Insider https://www.businessinsider.com/sears-rise-fall-retail-world-last-decade-2019-12
- Deloitte: What is the future of work? https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/technology-and-the-future-of-work/redefining-work-workforces-workplaces.html
- Deloitte 2019 Human Capital Trends Report: Leading the Social Enterprise
- EdTech Magazine https://edtechmagazine.com/higher/higher/article/2019/12/ai-and-smart-campuses-are-among-higher-ed-tech-watch-2020-1
- Deloitte 2018 Human Capital Trends Report: A Government Perspective
- MIT Sloan/Deloitte 2018 Digital Business Global Executive Research: Coming of Age Digitally
- Lumina Foundation, “Who is Today’s Student?”, 2019
- Sears catalog image from: http://www.searsarchives.com/
Special thanks to Danny Rasmussen, Emily Omrod, Ransel Salgado, Tushar Halgali, Sureya Alex, and Chelsea Gleason who contributed their time to this article. Additional thanks to the Future of Work team led by Nicole Overley, David Parent, Jeff Schwartz and Steve Hatfield who have done extensive research on FOW and created frameworks to create the narrative that fosters the change that is needed.