Students don't fear the future

It's fashionable to invoke the decline of higher education -- that students are getting the wrong kind of education, or are spending too much money, or are training for jobs that won't exist by the time they graduate. But what do students think?  Are they as bearish on the future of higher education as so many pundits and experts?

We decided to ask them.  We teamed up to collect and analyze responses from more than 20,000 students from 21 countries who attend 37 institutions in the Laureate International Universities network. The researchers at Zogby Analytics surveyed students as to what they believe their universities will look like 15 years from now.  Zogby has a rich body of experience working with universities worldwide, using the most sophisticated online tools for polling research, and understanding the Millennial age cohort.

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The Laureate/Zogby Analytics poll was the largest global survey of university students' attitudes ever conducted on this topic, so the results are very meaningful. And guess what? In students' minds, the sky isn't falling. In fact, the future looks fairly bright, albeit different from the traditional views and expectations of the higher education community.  While there are many differences between the students, their expectations and aspirations for higher education are consistent regardless of their geography.

These students do believe that a technological revolution is coming to higher ed. Sixty-eight percent said tutoring and course materials would be offered exclusively online, and fifty-nine percent of students believe that social media will be used as a teaching and collaborative learning tool.

Today's students think that a high-value education is one that is practical, job-focused, and immediate in its benefits. This means programs of study that are flexible - offering classes 24/7 rather than 9 to 5 (52 percent). After all, the overwhelming majority of the survey respondents are themselves 24/7 in their online habits and are digital natives.

This means making higher education more accessible, by promoting flexible course schedules (44 percent) and providing a direct link to practical, job-ready skill development and certification programs (more than 70 percent). These actions will increase students' marketability in a world where gigs, not permanent jobs, will dominate their lives.

Laureate has grown to become the world's largest provider of higher education - with more than 850,000 students at 75 institutions in 29 countries- by making sure that every Laureate network institution is student-centered. Meeting student expectations now means that the higher education system - around the globe - has to evolve and innovate faster. Flexibility, accessibility and practicality have to be the guiding principles for anyone leading a university now or in the future.

Becker is the founder and CEO of Laureate Education, Inc., the largest university system in the world with more than 800,000 students at nearly 80 universities in 31 countries. Zogby is the founder of the Zogby Poll, a senior analyst with Zogby Analytics and a best-selling author.