CEO KEYS: 2019 Predictions

12/18/18   |  
Steve Fireng

The last several years have surely been interesting and have brought about many dynamic changes to the world at large and to the world of higher education specifically.  Despite all these changes, two key concepts have remained constant: namely, the high value placed on a college degree and the continued rise and near-universal embrace of online education.  I hear almost every day about a new idea or a new company that is offering alternatives to a degree, but the trend lines show that students and employers still place a high value on a degree and the growth in online learning continues to dominate growth in all other education segments.  I think degree alternatives will continue to take shape and influence the market, and perhaps even take a small piece of the market share, but the noise will continue to outpace the impact. 

Here are my predictions for 2019:

#1.  Data, AI, and Science will continue to improve and will move from being just a high-minded idea in the future to directly impacting Universities and their student’s experiences.  The issue has been that most schools (and EDU companies for that matter) are data rich but information poor. I believe predictions about how data was going to revolutionize education were right, but early.  Schools and providers have struggled to gain access to “clean” data and the ultimate set of truths from a data perspective.  Now that systems are more integrated, big data science and analytics are poised to replace, or at the very least enhance, functions historically performed by human interactions.  Look for many tasks, including grading, credit transfers, admissions, or pre-enrollment to be done without, or with reduced, human interactions.

 #2.  Focus on the degree market.  It will continue to grow, not diminish.  How many articles have been written about the death of the degree? However, when you look at growth in education, the degree market is still the largest grower, and nothing comes close to size of this market.  Certificates and short courses are growing, but do not match the size that degrees do today, or in the foreseen future.  I do believe that university learning solutions with the ability to stack into a degree will have the best chance for long-term success.  While students love to learn, they also like to get credit for these accomplishments (e.g., by earning a certificate) while on the way to a full degree.  Innovation will benefit the market and our world, but I continue to believe the closer one is to the degree model, the better chance for success.

 #3.   Specialized Masters will gain ground.  What we do know is that MBA applications are in decline and the competition for students is getting tougher by the day.  Where are these students, who have historically gone the MBA route, moving to?  The data shows, and we have learned through our own experience, that many are moving towards specialized degrees.  Examples would be Masters in Analytics, Healthcare, Cyber Security and others.  Students are looking for ways to differentiate themselves and a generic MBA may no longer help them stand out from the crowd.  My view is that schools should look to create a bundle of these programs, leverage the market scale and share as many courses across programs as possible. Students in the master’s market have a keen understanding of the industry they want to specialize in and getting a degree in that specific field can add to their credibility.

For someone that has been in the EDU space as long as I have, we have all seen the flashes of success.  It is harder to be innovative the closer you are to the degree model and easier at the non-degree, non-credit world.  But, while being innovative is great, the degree is still the most recognized qualification and that will not change for a long while, perhaps not in our lifetimes. 

Have a great 2019! 

Steve Fireng, Global CEO