A Roadmap for the Future of Higher Education

Lifetime Learning Becomes the Focus

Space exploration. Virtual reality. Artificial intelligence. Sustainability. Quantum computing. These are the fields today’s Georgia Institute of Technology students see themselves working in over the next twenty years. Unlike established branches of learning such as computer science, engineering, or business, these disciplines barely exist today. Yet, they could emerge as drivers of the world’s economy by 2040. 

Drivers of Change

To prepare for this not-so-distant future, Georgia Tech has kept a pulse on the forces at play in higher education today. Disruptive technologies upending the way we live and work, shifting public attitudes prompting new demands on public universities, and demographic trends challenging firm assumptions about what it means to be a college student are some of the drivers of change that signal the need for a new approach to learning by universities. We may not be able to predict tomorrow's in-demand fields with certainty, but we can find ways to adapt to the rapid changes taking place around us. Georgia Tech has stepped up to the task.     

A Bold Vision of the University of Tomorrow

Recently, the Institute unveiled a roadmap for the future of higher education based on the Georgia Tech Commission on Creating the Next in Education (CNE). Having demonstrated to the world that high-quality STEM education can be accessible at low cost to learners worldwide, with the launch of the online master’s degrees in computer science and in analytics, Georgia Tech is no stranger to innovation. The CNE report continues with this innovative thinking and presents a bold vision of the university of tomorrow that commits to serving a broad range of learner communities throughout their lifetimes. This new approach is the Georgia Tech Commitment to a Lifetime Education, continual engagement with learners from kindergarten to forever. No longer will college only be a physical place that students enter at a particular age and leave when they complete a degree. Instead, it will be a platform for learners of all ages as well as socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, who will have lifetime access to the rigorous, high-quality education that has defined Georgia Tech for more than 130 years.

In an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, Rafael L. Bras, Georgia Tech’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, pointed out that discussions around the report were shaped by the ideas of affordability, accessibility, and excellence. “In many ways, you could say this is radical,” he said. “In other ways, you could say this is unavoidable. In time, if we read the world correctly, this is something that demands and need will call for.”  

Expanded Role of Adult Learners

This view of education means that lifelong learners, and not 18 to 24-year-olds, will become the majority of Geogia Tech's learners. Working professionals and other adult learners will form an increasingly important part of the learner population. Already, 41 percent of students enrolled in higher education are in the 25-and-over age range according to the National Center for Education Statistics, as cited by this Wall Street Journal article. Based on CNE, the university of the future will offer pathways, credentials, and learning experiences to meet the needs of older learners throughout their lifetimes. “Having offered professional education for 100 years and learning at a distance for more than 40 years, Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE) has a long history of success with this community of learners,” said Nelson Baker, dean of GTPE. “We look forward to building on it and finding new ways to support them at all stages of their career and life journeys.”   

Key Steps and Actions

Apart from recognizing the value of continual learning beyond the traditional college education, this new roadmap also eliminates the artificial barriers between college and pre-college schooling, providing access to K-12 students and engaging their educators. Other actions outlined by the report include reinventing the physical presence of a university for a worldwide population of learners and offering advising and coaching networks to serve the lifetime needs of Georgia Tech learners of all ages. 

Initiatives to Deliver on the Georgia Tech Promise

The Commission that produced the CNE report acknowledges that innovation is needed for these steps to be successful. It has outlined clear initiatives aimed at closing knowledge gaps, prototyping new products and services, and building a technological infrastructure to enable this broad expansion of Georgia Tech’s mission.  

  • Whole-Person Education: The report recognizes that the twenty-first century workplace needs more than strong technical skills from their employees. To succeed in the near future, workers will need deep disciplinary skills coupled with problem-solving, communications, leadership, and intrapersonal skills, along with adaptability, creativity, and discipline. GTPE already offers courses and programs aimed at developing some of these skills. Advanced Problem Solving is one example, while the Professional Master’s in Manufacturing Leadership is an example of a degree that combines technical knowledge with business and leadership skills to meet workforce in the future needs in the manufacturing industry. To achieve the goal of providing a whole-person education to all its learner communities, the Institute has outlined several projects.
     
  • New Products and Services: Evolving job markets and a highly diverse future learner population will call for flexible learning experiences and ongoing opportunities for learning. Georgia Tech plans to create new educational products and services to enable learners to customize their education to suit their needs. The CNE report outlines four projects to address near-term and long-term problems. They include offering flexible modules rather than the traditional three-credit-hour classes, credits to recognize competencies and skills, a decentralized transcript to enable students to combine evidence of learning and achievements into credentials relevant to potential employers, and microcredentials. The University Learning Store for example, which was formed by Georgia Tech and five other top universities, offers professionals the ability to earn microcredentials after completing skills assessments to demonstrate mastery in specific fields to employers.
     
  • Advising for a New Era: Georgia Tech intends to provide its diverse population of learners a personalized, at-scale advising experience, regardless of their location. According to the CNE report, this advanced form of advising will be made possible by a robust learner database, diverse, personalized panels of advisors, and artificial intelligence assistants. The Commission has outlined three projects key to launching this initiative.
     
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Personalization: Georgia Tech’s “Jill Watson” artificially intelligent teaching assistant experiment was widely held as the breakthrough in AI and educational technology in 2016. The Institute now aims to expand these AI teaching assistant skills to handle other tasks related to personalized learning. One example includes deploying a multifunction virtual tutor to advisors, coaches, and mentors located at Georgia Tech locations all over the world. This initiative will include three projects as outlined in the CNE report.
     
  • A Distributed Worldwide Presence: In addition to the traditional physical university campus, Georgia Tech intends to enable learners worldwide a way to connect with each other and with the Institute by offering physical locations where they can interact, learn, and benefit from Tech’s vast resources. The Commission has identified two innovative projects that will enable Georgia Tech to experiment with new modes of student interaction.

What’s Next for Adult Learners?

Through GTPE, Georgia Tech already serves a large community of working professionals and other adult learners. In 2017, as many as 33,000 non-traditional learners were enrolled in professional development courses, certificate programs, online degrees, massive open online courses, and other offerings custom-designed to meet their needs. With the CNE report and Georgia Tech’s vision for the future, this role is set to expand. This learner community can look forward to thoughtfully designed learning experiences and innovative products and services to serve them throughout their lifetimes.

We'd love your feedback on this ambitious roadmap and these ideas. Stay tuned for more information about the specific initiatives planned for the years ahead, and what they mean for you.