While colleges are starting to welcome their first students after reviewing Early Decision applications, it is high time to get a glimpse of what life on campus and in classrooms will look like for them. Here is what the high school class of 2023 – soon to be inaugurated college class of 2027 – should expect from their educational experience. Spoiler: colleges will make more effort to meet students where they are and accommodate their unique needs. So, the news is mostly positive. Read on for empowering details!
Diverse Student Body
According to Whitney Soule, Vice Provost and Dean of Admissions of Pennsylvania, the class of 2027 so far is the largest Early Decision applicant pool in the university’s history and is also the most diverse. Students have a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, racial and ethnic heritage, and family education history. Other prestigious schools, such as Dartmouth, report similar statistics. This shouldn’t be a surprise. This year sees the largest number of Gen Z entering college than ever before, and this is the most diverse generation so far, which is also true in terms of sexuality, religion, and gender diversity.
Moreover, online learning has brought in more nontraditional students, who are younger or older than an average traditional learner, contributing to age diversity.
This shift in the student body demands increased flexibility to accommodate historically underserved students. Colleges and universities are actively developing strategies to close equity gaps, create a new and meaningful way of measuring academic progress, and enhance a sense of belonging on campus for every admitted individual.
Students are becoming more mindful of their mental health and expect more support from schools to help them cope with stress and anxiety. Meanwhile, higher education institutions develop new definitions of student success beyond GPA, retention, and attainment rates. They begin factoring in students’ mental health and overall well-being and make colossal efforts to implement new technologies that ensure positive outcomes in the classroom and outside of it.
From linking tutoring resources and libraries directly within the course to providing students with tools like access to essay writer service, schools make small but meaningful improvements that lessen the mental strain and make learning smooth and seamless. This might not seem like a lot at first blush, but the cumulative effect of these steps can have a measurable positive impact on student success.
Higher education cost has been rising for decades. It has more than doubled since 2008. Despite the slight decline in projections for the 2023-2024 academic year of 5% for private universities and 4% for public ones, tuition costs are still very steep. Students must also consider room and board, books, access to technology, and other expenses that come with obtaining a degree.
With inflation and recession looming, efforts to make higher education more affordable are on the rise. Many colleges hit by the pandemic in 2020 decided to slash their rates for the subsequent academic years or offer discounts to students. This proved a successful strategy they will likely carry forward into 2023-2024. However, this might not be enough. According to Charles Parsons from Modern Campus, students will become more demanding of their chosen schools, assessing how the institution supports students like them. He insists that “schools need to invest in strategies that ensure financial and economic help is both available and easily accessible to students.”
Another strategy that schools will adopt for increased accessibility might be micro-credentialing. That means they will offer focused and short credentials to provide in-demand skills and experiences that give students an immediate boost on the job market. Moreover, stackable micro-credentials can pave the way to a full degree when the student is ready.
According to Ryan Lufkin from Infrastructure Learning Platform, their annual survey on student success in higher education has shown that career readiness is the number one priority for students. “Students want to know there is a well-paying job waiting for them at the end of their academic journey, and colleges and universities are responding.” Schools collaborate with companies such as Nike, FedEx, Starbucks, and Uber to provide internships and programs that prepare students for employment and help them get on the career ladder while still studying.
Other analysts agree that pathways to jobs will only grow in importance as more Gen Z students enter colleges. At the same time, schools will continue to reshape their programs and give students the skills they need in the new-era workplace. That will include improved course structures, tools for measuring learning outcomes, and varied credentials.
Overall, new students value the practicality of higher education more than prestige. They want to see the potential return on investment backed up by factual data showing their improved competitiveness. This is only fair considering the dire straight that previous generations of students got into with student debt they aren’t able to repay decades after graduation.
Soft Skills Taught as Competencies
Speaking of career preparedness, more focus seems to be given to teaching soft skills that are typically personal or social in nature. Many of these skills were previously seen as innate qualities that one either possesses or not: creativity, adaptability, teamwork, problem-solving, grit, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence. They are seen as highly desirable attributes by employers, with more and more emphasis on them in any role, particularly in leadership. Students are prepared to work hard to master these skills and get a competitive edge.
Schools respond by incorporating soft-skill training into the curriculum, offering courses on critical thinking and analysis, complex problem-solving, leadership and social influence, creativity, originality, initiative, etc. Now, instead of trying to decide what you are: a creative or an analyst by nature, you can sign up for a course and get academic credits in both!
However, even with soft skills, you cannot prepare yourself for a smooth career once and for all. Today like never before, skills and competencies become outdated fast. By the time you graduate, things you are being taught during your first year could be considered completely wrong or just obsolete because new, better ways to do the same tasks emerge. That is why lifelong learning is a crucial part of career success.
Colleges and universities are introducing active learning and learning strategies as skills taught within the standard curriculum. They prepare students for continuous independent learning, encourage them to co-create their education, build a growth mindset, and give advice on choosing mentors, coaches, and role models.
The most essential takeaway schools want their class of 2027 to carry with them is that education doesn’t end at graduation – it never ends in the ever-changing world.
Online and blended learning that took center stage during the pandemic isn’t going anyway. Students have found the flexibility it gives them too enticing to let go, especially with their many responsibilities. For example, seven out of ten students nowadays work full-time to support themselves and fund their studies. That leaves no space for the strict in-person-only class system of yore.
To remain competitive, schools revamp their digital platforms, expand online course offerings, and create remote and hybrid learning opportunities. This gives them the added advantage of attracting students who are no longer restricted to a specific location when considering their options on where to apply. Plus, online options are, as a rule, affordable to broader swaths of demographics.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the trend that has been growing since 2017 – and it’s a good thing. Students have more choice and more say in their education: from what they learn to how they attend the course to ways their progress is measured.
Overall, the trends in higher education seem to center on people, leaving robust and elaborate learning technology to work in the background. Collaboration and rapport between educators and students, customized approach, self-directed learning, and focus on holistic personal development make the future of higher education seem very bright. A bit like a rainbow after a long rain. Honestly, it makes me feel a bit jealous of the high school class of 2023. They will find their campus a much more supportive, inclusive, and nurturing place than it was back in my day.