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The Future of Higher Education is Flexibility By Nancy L. Zimpher, Chancellor Emeritus, The State University of New York The technological advances of the past few decades have ush- er. Fifty-six percent are female. Twenty-eight percent are raisered in an era of distance-learning capability that has triggered a ing families while they earn their degree. Sixty-three percent conversation about what, exactly, the future of higher education of students are enrolled full-time, and 36 percent of students will look like. Speculation ranges across the extremes: On the work part-time while taking classes and another 26 percent one hand, that the ability to earn entire credentials online, from work full-time. Today, 41 percent of students live on campus. certificates to PhDs, will inevitably force the extinction of brick- The remainder, owing to their life obligations — juggling jobs, and-mortar campuses, to the other, in which critics argue that families, and expenses — commute. Fifty-eight percent of colcourses taken online are so much less rich than the traditional lege students today are white; 17 percent are Hispanic and 15 campus and classroom experience that they are “junk degrees.” percent are black — the fastest growing segments of the U.S. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between. Importantly population and also the most underserved. The world has changed, and higher education needs to not though, the determination of higher ed’s future is not an exercise in theory but rather a practical one with real-world outcomes that only change with it but stay ahead of the curve, ready to receive affect millions of people. Every university and college leader to- the students who come to us. The future of higher education day must be wide awake to this fact and accept the responsibil- is flexibility. This means expanding our operations so that we can meet ity eagerly with both hands. In doing so they must do two things students where they are, on their time. It simultaneously: they need to know exactly who their students are and never take “...higher ed’s future is not means providing an array of avenues by which to earn a degree and support to their eyes off the changing, fast-emerging an exercise in theory but ensure they complete. High-quality online needs of the world and workforce. With rather a practical one with learning opportunities are a critical piece both of these things in sight, heads of colreal-world outcomes that of this. leges and universities need to create instiOne out of three New Yorkers who earn tutions or systems that can respond to the affect millions of people.” a college degree do it at The State Univerneeds of students and sectors. It will come as no surprise to this publication’s readership sity of New York. In the last three years, more than 320,000 of that today about 65 percent of jobs in the United States re- our students have taken online classes, and 8,000 have received quire a degree beyond high school.1 Moreover, the jobs that a SUNY degree by taking the majority of their classes online. Our earn a middle-class living or better almost certainly, increas- online learning platform, launched in 2014, is the largest in the ingly, require advanced education. New York State is even more world. But for SUNY it is not enough to be the biggest, we need competitive than average: nearly 70 percent of jobs will soon to be the best. This is our commitment to New York: to prepare require a college degree, but right now only 46 percent of adult students by any and every high-quality means possible to earn a New Yorkers have one. This wide gap between the current real- college degree and to build their best life.  ity and the projected need for educated, skilled citizens has created a fault line upon which we cannot expect to build stable, Nancy L. Zimpher served as the twelfth chancellor of The State University of New York from 2009 to 2017, during which time she competitive, thriving economy and communities. To close the gap we need to know who today’s students are. was also chair of the New York Academy of Sciences Board of GovUnlike eras past, in which the picture of the typical college ernors from 2011 to 2016. In January 2018 Dr. Zimpher will become student was a young, white, male student living on campus a senior fellow at the Rockefeller Institute of Government, where and attending classes full time, today’s student profile is very she will also be the founding director of the nation’s first Center for different.2 Forty percent of college students are age 25 or old- Education Pipeline Systems Change. 1. A. P. Carnevale, N. Smith, & J. Strohl, Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements through 2020. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, McCourt School of Public Policy (2103). Retrieved from 2. Among many, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has done excellent work compiling college student demographics, including information that can be found at The New York Academy of Sciences Magazine • Fall 2017


The New York Academy of Sciences Magazine, Fall 2017  

Imagining the Next 100 Years