[Note: This article is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in On
the Horizon (2003), 11(1), pp. 6-10. It is posted here with permission
from Emerald. The Spanish
translation was published in Uni-pluri/versidad, Vol. 3,
No. 1, in March 2003.]
higher education is undergoing substantial change in terms of the
way colleges and universities are organized and function. This change is
being driven by the combined forces of demographics, globalization,
economic restructuring, and information technology (IT)—forces that
will, over the coming decade, lead us to adopt new conceptions of
educational markets, organizational structures, how we teach, and what we
teach. The purpose of this article is to describe these forces and
speculate on their effects on higher education in the US and other mature
Today, four demographic changes are affecting higher
education. First, the ethnic identification mix of the general
population is changing both in the US and in the world, although the
changes vary by geographical area. This is perhaps best represented by
examining the proportion of the white population in these areas. Between
1970 and 2000, New York City’s population shifted from two-thirds to
one-third white. In several states white children are no longer the
majority in the elementary grades. Before the end of this century,
demographers generally expect Euro-descended Americans to make up less
than half of the U.S. population (Nasser, 2000). This
change is reflected worldwide, in that the proportion of the population
that is white is decreasing and is projected to continue to decrease. To
be effective in this environment, colleges and universities must ensure
that their curriculums provide opportunities for students to learn how to
function effectively in an increasingly diverse, multi-cultural global
Second, the demand for access to some form of
postsecondary education is increasing dramatically. An ever-greater
proportion of high school graduates is enrolling in college (67 percent today vs.
56 percent in 1980), and the size of the high school graduating class will grow
by more than 20 percent between 1996 and 2005. The National Center for Education
Statistics (2001a) reported a 2 percent increase in college enrollments in 2001
and projects that enrollment will grow by an additional 16 percent over the next
decade, mainly because of an increase in the college-age population. The demand
for education is exacerbated by a general shortage of postsecondary
faculty members; the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the
number of college and university faculty will need to grow by 16.6 percent during
this decade to meet replacement and growth demands (Snyder et
Third, the age demographic within the US and other
industrialized countries is changing. The National Center for Educational
Statistics (2001b) estimates that in the US, 43 percent of adults will be age 50
or older by 2010, and 50 percent of all college students will be over 21. By
2004, 100 million Americans will take part in adult education programs
(for 1995, this figure was 76 million). The “graying” of the
population is also reflected in the graying of the workforce, a workforce
that needs continuing education to remain viable.
Fourth, within this decade, more than 20 percent of college
and university faculty members will retire (American Demographics, 2001),
thereby allowing new talent into the ranks of the professorate—talent
that is comfortable using information technology tools in their work.
Globalization and the Economy
Globalization generally entails the international
movement of capital, labor, products, technology, and information in
increasingly expanding amounts. The global economy is driven by regional
free trade, multinational corporations, and information technology. Of the
world’s largest economies, 51 are multinational corporations and 49 are
countries. The gross domestic product of Wal-Mart is greater than that of
12 countries combined (Wolf, 2002).
IT industries play a major role
in the global economy. In the US, 60 percent of the GNP is related to them. Since
1995, IT has sustained more than one-third of U.S. economic growth. In
five years, most new US jobs will be in computer-related fields: The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (2002) projects that computer-related
occupations will grow 86 percent from 2000 to 2010.
In this environment, business-to-business e-commerce
is also expanding rapidly. The Gartner Group projects that this economic
sector will exceed $7 trillion dollars by 2004 (Iwata, 2000).
Consequently, some 95 percent of the workforce will soon need to use some type of
information technology in their jobs.
In response to emerging free trade initiatives,
business organizations are downsizing and restructuring to adapt to an
increasingly competitive global economy. Workers need constant retraining
if their employers are to remain in business and if they are to retain
their jobs. The American Society for Training and Development estimates
that 75 percent of the current workforce will need to be retrained just to stay
sufficiently qualified for employment (Marklein, 1997).
To summarize, in the US and in mature industrial
democracies around the world, there is increasing demand for access to
higher education from increasing numbers of secondary school graduates.
When we combine this demand for higher education from youth with the
growing need to retrain employees mid-career, we can confidently assume
that the existing labor-intensive, bricks-and-mortar campuses will not
have the resources (physical or financial) to meet the demand.
In order to meet unprecedented demand for access,
colleges and universities need to expand their use of IT tools via online
learning, which will enable them to teach more students without building
more classrooms. Moreover, in order for professors to prepare their pupils
for success in the global economy, they need to ensure that students can access, analyze, process, and communicate information; use
information technology tools; work with people from different cultural
backgrounds; and engage in continuous, self-directed learning.
IT has a major effect on our
lives today and will continue to do so in the future. According
to Moore’s Law, formulated more than 20 years ago by Intel co-founder
Gordon Moore, the power of computer technology effectively doubles every
18 months while the price of technology decreases at the same rate.
Intel, for example, has recently developed transistors with elements as
narrow as three atoms wide. Chips with these miniscule elements can
contain approximately 400 million transistors and can consequently run at
10 GHz on less than one volt of power. (In contrast, current Pentium 4
chips contain 42 million transistors and run at 1.5 GHz.) Although
Moore’s Law has remained valid to date, researchers have speculated
about when the laws of physics might stop it. Early in the last decade,
Moore himself estimated that the trend would probably cease when
transistors shrunk to around 0.25 microns. But chips with transistors that
size came out in 1997. Since then, IBM has developed a gigabyte hard drive
that is the size of two quarters pasted together, yet is large enough to
contain 1,000 books. In August 2002, Seagate announced that it had
exceeded IBM, squeezing 50 terabits to a square inch, and indicated that
it will eventually offer a 1 terabyte (2-3 million books) drive for
$300.00 (Ng, 2002).
The implications of Moore’s law are profound. We
can expect machine intelligence to be embedded in smaller and more
powerful devices, which may lead to computers that are capable of thought
and that can support visualizations, simulations, modeling, and animation.
Metcalf’s law states that available bandwidth will
double with no change in price every 18 months. Along with advances in
wireless technology, this trend will make it possible to stay continuously
connected to networks, anywhere and anytime. When we combine smaller, more
powerful, and less expensive (and therefore more accessible) computers
with the power of the Internet to quickly connect people across the globe
via audio, video, and text, we have the means to transform our culture.
And that is precisely what is happening now. We can anticipate that, in
the future, computers will be as easy to use and as ubiquitous and
reliable as telephones are today. These machines, equipped with decision
algorithms and expert systems, will enable schools to greatly enrich the
educational experience through virtual reality simulations and through
such tools as peer-to-peer groupware to facilitate project-based team
Signals of Change
All around us, there are a number of signals that
higher education is headed for a major transformation. Consider the
The number of e-mails sent on an average day was 10 billion
in 2000; 35 billion are expected in 2005 (Zuckerman, 2001).
Cable and phone companies are consolidating to provide more
efficient forms of interactive multimedia programming (Stern, 2002).
Educational courses and programs are being designed,
produced, and distributed by corporations.
The UK Higher Education Funding Counsel has estimated the
global online learning market to be $70 billion (Kelly, 2000).
Merrill Lynch calculated that the higher-education market
outside the US is worth $111 billion a year, and it projected a potential
consumer base of 32 million students. More than half of the market, in
terms of both students and money, is based in China (Moe, 1998).
Institute of Standards and Technology estimates that by 2004, the US
e-learning market will grow to $46 billion; the International
Data Corporation projects that it will expand to more than 35 percent of
the total training market by 2004, up from 10 percent in 1999 (Morton, 2001).
Army online (eArmyU.com) started last year and expects to
have 85,000 online students by 2005 (Lorenzo, 2002).
The distance-learning market for fully online degree
programs is growing at an annual rate of 40 percent (Gallagher & Newman,
A Pew-funded program at the University of R ochester has sponsored projects at VPI and other institutions to
demonstrate how colleges and universities can use Web-enabled courses to
handle more students more efficiently, and less expensively, without loss
of quality (Morrison & Twigg, 2001).
Cisco's classroom programs cost as much as $1,800 per
worker, whereas Web-based classes cost approximately $120 per worker (Sunday
The total number of corporate universities expanded from 400
in 1990 to 2,000 in 2000. Average enrollment in these institutions is
increasing 30 percent per year. By 2003, corporations will provide 96 percent of their
training online. By 2010,
corporate training universities are likely to outnumber traditional
colleges and universities (Morrison & Meister, 2001).
The dean of the University of Chicago School of Business
predicts that “Corporate training and distance learning will ‘wipe
out’ many of the 700 MBA programs that issue 100,000 MBAs each year”
(Jones, 2000, B1).
The Western Governors University, a virtual university
sponsored by 10 western states, awards competency-based degrees (Morrison
& Mendenhall, 2001).
At the University College of the Caribou (Canada), students
pay monthly tuition until they have completed their courses (Morrison
& Twigg, 2001).
At Rio Salado College (Arizona), student enrollment is
continuous, with new classes beginning every 2 weeks (Morrison & Twigg,
In 2001, 72 percent of colleges and universities offered distance
education courses; in 1999, only 48 percent of institutions offered such courses.
In 2000, 49 percent of colleges provided Internet connections in
classrooms; in 2002, this figure grew to 64 percent.
to a survey by the National Association for College Admission Counseling,
77 percent of colleges provided online enrollment to prospective students in
2001, up from 68 percent in 1998.
Some colleges (e.g., West Virginia Wesleyan and MIT) require all
prospective students to submit their applications online.
In collaboration with its partner
libraries, the Library of Congress is launching a pilot project to form a
global reference desk so that librarians’ expertise will be available to
users 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Five percent of all postsecondary institutions currently
require students to have a personal computer.
In spring 2001, Stanford University graduated the first 25
students from its global online engineering program (Harmon, 2001).
Universitas 21—a high-profile
international consortium of 17 universities in Asia, Australia, Europe,
and North America—plans to sell online degrees to a global market. Created
in 1997, the consortium intends to offer a master's degree throughout Asia
in early 2003 (O’Hagan, 2002).
Finally, younger students are changing. On the whole,
they are far more comfortable using computers, telecommunications, and
multimedia than their elders. In light of
current trends in household computer use, most members of the upcoming
Generation Z may be computer literate before they hit grade school.
Currently, more than 50 percent of US school districts depend on some form of
student assistance to maintain computer networks and to help instructors
use IT tools. In a recent article in On
the Horizon, Marc Prensky (2002) coined the phrase “Digital
Natives” to describe the current breed of young students,
who are accustomed to hypertext, phones in their pockets, a
library on their laptops, and instant messaging. They have little patience
for in-class lectures or modes of instruction that require them to
regurgitate information through pencil-and-paper tests.
background is also reflected in their speech: For example, one
kindergartener expressed his feelings at lunchtime by saying “www.hungry.com,”
while a high school student reportedly said, “Every time I go to school
I have to power down.”
Based on these trends, what sort of institutional
changes can we expect to see in upcoming decades?
I believe that colleges and universities will no longer limit
themselves to a given geographical market area, but will view their
markets as limited only to people who have Internet access and who are
proficient in English—although the latter restriction may eventually
fade with the development of computer-mediated language programs. This
perspective will be adopted not only by an increasing number of
comprehensive institutions, but also by two-year colleges, both public and
Although some inter-campus consortia exist today,
such collaborations will be commonplace in 10 years. More and more
institutions will establish extensive partnerships with vendors and with
other institutions to enrich their online curricular offerings and to
create organizational distinction and comparative advantage in a
competitive environment. Many colleges and universities will be completely
virtual, while residential campuses will offer predominantly hybrid
courses: face-to-face classes supplemented by individual and collaborative
online projects. Substantial online instructional capability will be a
standard feature of practically all institutions in the USA. Moreover,
institutions will predominately use competency-based exams (rather than
credit-hour accomplishment) to award degrees and will guarantee that
individuals who receive these degrees are indeed qualified to perform at
the implied level.
In the coming decade, traditional
semester/quarter/trimester academic schedules will be reorganized to
incorporate varying lengths of time for online learning modules.
Enrollments, once set at specific times during the year, will become
continuous (e.g., once every month).
Most important of all, as changing demographics and
technology alter the context of higher education, the mind-set of faculty
members will have to change as well. Specifically, instead of viewing
themselves primarily as content providers in their teaching role,
professors will see themselves as designers of learning experiences for an
increasingly diverse student population. Students, viewed today as sponges
whose task is to soak up knowledge from their professors (Spector, 2002),
will be seen as junior colleagues who acquire knowledge while working
through project-based courses. Faculty members will no longer work in
isolation, but will serve on teams of instructional designers, media
support staff, and assessment specialists. These teams will prepare
courses that can be taught online or as hybrid courses in campus
classrooms. Classes will be conducted largely by junior professors,
instructors, or, in universities, by graduate assistants who will mentor
students as they progress through virtual courses.
For user-friendly environments to succeed,
traditional administrative structures must change as well. Katz (2002)
points out that administrators must work within a team-based,
multidisciplinary organizations if they hope to meet student demands for
round-the-clock access to services (e.g., online course materials, grade
reports, loan applications and payments, and class registration).
At the same time that IT is transforming the world of
administrators, teachers and students, it is also changing the context of
scholarship. Specifically, the movement spearheaded by MIT in 2002 to put
faculty scholarship online—in conjunction with the efforts of the
Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPAR), as well as
the free online scholarship movement—will establish the acceptability of
peer-reviewed online scholarship in terms of merit, tenure, and promotion
In 2020, the landscape of higher education in the US
will look very different. There will
still be many bricks-and-mortar residential campuses, particularly for the
young, but their classes will be hybridized (i.e., a combination of online
and in-class instruction). Instructors will no longer rely on lectures as
the predominant mode of instruction; rather, group and individual
project-based learning will be the pedagogical norm. The focus of
education will be to produce graduates who can use a variety of
information technology tools and techniques to access, evaluate, analyze,
and communicate information and who can work effectively in teams with
people from different ethnic groups. In this way, institutions will better
prepare their students to address a wide range of real-world issues and
choices, the tidy answers to which are not in the back of a textbook.
The old hierarchical, geographically based university
is dying. But progressive educators and innovative reformers are
revivifying the institution, using rapidly maturing information
technologies and building upon the timeless values of scholarship,
collegiality, open dialogue, and intellectual integrity to create a
post-industrial university that will be capable of reaching both new
heights of academic excellence and new breadths of community access and
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