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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.