Where do Our Schools and Colleges go From Here?

My typically light conversations about colleges and college planning are taking a more cerebral turn this time, compliments of Arthur Levine and Scott Van Pelt. In their recently published article on EdSurge, they caution higher education about getting caught unaware by the technology disruption that has only just begun. It was shoved forward by the pandemic and gave everyone a glimpse of what is possible. Now, there are any number of companies out there figuring out how to claim their share of the multi-billion-dollar industry that is secondary and higher education. I mention secondary schools because any changes at that level will invariably affect the product that colleges must then accept.

Levine and Van Pelt use the music industry and the newspaper industry as examples of what could happen. We all know that music moved from individuals giving live performances to the first recordings played on gramophones and victrolas. From there, the recordings grew more and more sophisticated until technology gave individuals the ability to share music over the internet. The captains of the music industry had to adjust or lose everything. These days, the handful of big record labels, have been largely replaced by streaming services.

In the case of newspapers, they saw the writing on the wall with the rise of radio and television. Until 1975 when the FCC limited cross-ownership of media, “Newspapers owned 40 percent of TV stations in the U.S. and 64 percent of the radio stations in operation.” Enter the internet and social media platforms and in just 13 years, newspaper advertising decreased from $49 billion to $14 billion.

Even though the customer base of colleges is different from the product being consumed in the two examples, there are still lessons to be learned. There are also trends that can be studied about how internet access has changed education thus far. But the most valuable information available to colleges, at this point in time, is what happened only a year ago. Looking at what worked well and what didn’t in the education arena during the pandemic should begin to drive decisions for moving forward. Colleges who ignore the lessons of 2020 believing that the system will return to business as usual might be making a fatal mistake. Just as technology has given individuals the option of consuming their music, news and entertainment the way they want, education is almost certainly moving in the same direction.

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