Tag Archives: college

Trends in Higher Education 2017

It seems like here in the U.S., higher education is being attacked for being too liberal or not liberal enough or not providing enough instruction in technical, hands-on skills. The new presidential administration will have some influence on the debate through what areas of education it funds. I believe that colleges and universities need to clearly articulate their value proposition. How does our school add value to students? What do we offer that differentiates us from our competitors? How can we better serve our current and prospective students? These are the same questions a business poses when trying to grow and thrive. In this blog I will highlight trends I think will have an impact on how we answer those questions.


A 2015 article in EdSurge News defines personalized learning as “technology-assisted differentiated instruction.” The article made a valid point that we are in the business of educating real people and not just a generalization of students. This means tailoring curriculum to current students and their needs. Do you cater to first time students or returning students that have several years of industry experience? It does not make sense to apply the same model to all students. Personalization is particularly difficult when you have a mix of new and returning students, but technology makes it possible to create multiple tracks of the same course so that the outcomes are the same but the paths vary to suit the needs of the students.

High Velocity Learning

Businesses are increasingly asking employees to be more flexible and move faster. The United States Navy recently introduced what they call high velocity learning which means being nimble, flexible and faster at processing change. Educators should adopt the same mindset. This may mean an accelerated program for those who have already proven competencies or modifying the way we test for competencies. This goes right along with personalization and is a hot topic as tuition continues to rise and the length of time spent in college is extended. It is important to review our curriculum to make sure it is relevant, necessary, and promotes our value proposition.


I think in the future higher education will need to be more responsive and flexible and technology will be used to create dynamic curriculum that caters to individual needs. Just as important is an honest review of offered courses to ensure they still prepare students for the future. These are just some of the ways that educators can serve students. Do you have other ideas that will align education offerings with current needs? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Trends in Higher Education

Stock photo of a hand about to click Go when searching with the term University.The Boston Consulting Group published an article recently that highlighted trends in higher education. This piece did a good job covering those that are emerging. I want to examine the convergence of several of them and how I think technology will play a part in shaping that future.


State colleges and universities have long relied on government subsidies to keep tuition at a manageable rate and fund all of the research and activities associated with the school. In recent years the amount of funding coming from the states has dropped as they struggle to balance their own budgets. The shortfall is made up through increased tuition and grants as well as targeted campaigns aimed at private and corporate donors. Increased tuition is problematic due to the large debt graduates are accumulating. A recent article in U.S. News & World Report detailed how some graduates are carrying student loan debt into their forties, which means they cannot help their children start academic careers. The result is that the children are assuming their own debt, which continues the cycle. Generating alternative funding sources or containing operational costs could help break that cycle.


There are more education options available to students. Schools across the country, and even some international schools, are offering attractive incentives to reel in young scholars who might otherwise attend their state university. There’s also been a spike in online curriculum and for-profit schools. In this competitive environment universities must target the right prospective students and then lure them in. With the drop in state funding mentioned above, many universities are pursuing more international students, who pay a higher tuition. All of this requires a targeted, intelligent marketing campaign.

Increased Research

Partnerships with private industry are helping universities increase their research efforts. These partners provide funds for sophisticated research, the results of which can be licensed back to the partner or sold outright. Top-notch students and faculty are drawn to such projects, industry gains new business ideas and opportunities, and students and potential employers are brought together.


Colleges and universities are facing pressure from increased competition, uncertain funding, and the push to accelerate and capitalize on research. Here are ways that I think technology can help alleviate that pressure:

  • Social Media. Universities are increasing their use of social media to reach a tech savvy generation from around the globe. Advances in web and media technologies as well as analytics help schools target the right audiences and markets.
  • Big Data and Business Analytics. The ability to quickly analyze large amounts of prospective student data helps colleges narrow their search for potential students. By identifying and targeting particular demographics, schools can reduce marketing costs and increase the efficiency of their search campaigns.
  • Collaboration Software. Research partnerships are no longer just with the company down the street. Partners can be thousands of miles away so it is important that schools and private enterprises can communicate, catalog and analyze research results in a systematic and predictable way. Collaboration applications can help keep researchers informed and successful.

While colleges and universities are facing funding and competition pressures, there are technologies that can help lessen those concerns and lead to new knowledge and discoveries. I am hoping this post spurs your thoughts on other ways that technology can or is helping higher education.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Competency-Based Education

Man adding a cog gear in a row of old cog gearsI have been reading about competency-based education (CBE) and want to share my findings and thoughts with you. By definition, competency-based education differs from traditional education in that it is not measured by the traditional credit hour. You complete a course of study when you have mastered the skill at hand. That may take a day or it may take a year, or anywhere in between. You pay a flat rate for a subscription time period and how many courses you complete in that time is up to you. Most existing CBE coursework, such as that from the University of Wisconsin, is offered online. If you have already mastered a skill, you can prove it through skills testing and move on to another course.

Credit for Prior Learning

There are two main draws for competency-based education: credit for prior learning and self-paced learning. Learning culminates in a test to demonstrate mastery of the subject, whether you studied for one day or 100 days; the focus is on mastery, not time. A recent Harvard Business Review article stated: “It is vital to underscore, however, that competency-based education is about mastery foremost—not speed. These pathways importantly assess and certify what a student knows and can do.” This is good news for the returning student who has already mastered a particular skill through technical school or on-the-job training. It is also good news for potential employers who want to know what you know and not necessarily how many hours you spent in a classroom. A potential employee could hit the ground running and not have to go through an extensive onboarding program to fill in the gaps from academia to the workforce.

Self-Paced Learning

The other benefit to competency-based education is that each student learns at his or her own pace. If students need more time to complete a topic before being evaluated, they just need to sign up for another block or period. If students need less time to complete a skill because of prior knowledge or training, they can be evaluated and move on to the next course. This lets them move at their own pace and potentially lessens the cost of their education if they are aggressive in taking and passing competencies.

Current Offerings

University of Wisconsin, University of Michigan, and Purdue University are among a handful of top colleges experimenting with this new format. Western Governors University has been using a CBE model for almost two decades. There are several for-profit schools as well. Wisconsin now offers seven programs that range from certificates to bachelor’s degrees in IT, sales, nursing, and international business. The University of Michigan offers a master’s degree in medical health professions education. This is targeted at doctors, nurses, and administrators who find themselves in a teaching role. They are targeting professionals who already have a terminal degree but need to fill in skills to ensure they are competent educators. It is completely online and self-paced to fit the schedules of those already working in the health care field.


I think this is a great innovation for educational institutions, students, and potential employers. I believe that the key to making this type of education successful is to form an ongoing partnership between the academic institution and employers to ensure that the competencies that educators are teaching are relevant to the business and industry that will be receiving the newly minted graduate. The employer wins because they know they are getting a competent employee who can contribute right away. The academic institution wins because they have a much larger pool of returning students to draw from and can train them in real world skills.

Is this the new wave of higher education or just a passing fad? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Is College Essential for Young Entrepreneurs?

Young business people in a meeting.In a recent article about Thiel Fellows the question was raised once again: “Is college for everyone?” With rising tuition rates and more young people competing to get into the best schools, it is a valid question. Does a college education give you a return on investment commensurate with the investment of time and money and the opportunity cost of foregoing other ventures? I have touched on this question in previous blog posts but want to visit it again, hopefully, with a fresh perspective.

Thiel Fellows

Peter Thiel is a billionaire who made his fortune in finance and venture capital investing. He was one of the original founders of PayPal and provided the first outside funding for Facebook. In 2010 he founded the Thiel Fellowship. Thiel Fellows are given $100,000 to forego college and instead focus on their own ideas and passions. His premise is that the brightest and most motivated young people should be given an opportunity to explore their ideas outside of the walls of academia (though Thiel himself has degrees in philosophy and law from Stanford). Fellows are supported for two years through networking, summits on entrepreneurship, and connections to venture capital. Thiel has provided for a contingent of approximately 20 people under age 20 each year since 2010 and there are openings for the next class.

Where are They Now?

The author of the article mentioned above interviewed a small number of Thiel Fellow graduates. Some have successfully formed start-up companies. Some moved on from their original idea when it proved unworkable. Others have actually gone back to complete their education. They all credit at least part of their success to the Thiel Foundation. It helped them focus on their ideas and gave them a framework and network to build on those ideas and produce a product or service.

University Entrepreneurship Programs

The Thiel Fellowship comes at a time when universities are growing their own in-house entrepreneurship programs. The University of Oregon, for example, is a partner in the Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network (RAIN) Eugene. This gives students the opportunity to work on projects and connect with people in the community and learn how to start a business from the ground up. Critics of Mr. Thiel are hoping that programs like RAIN will give students a chance to pursue personal projects and a college degree at the same time. In other words, it is not one or the other but both.


I believe that college is very important but realize that life takes us down many paths. College is just one of those paths. A rigid four-year college experience right after high school may not be best for everyone, and we need to make sure that we have a way for learners to step in and out of the college experience as they choose. College may be interspersed with work, research, travel, volunteer opportunities, or starting a company. I pursued a college career while working full time and found it a very rewarding experience. My son has completed two tech schools and is at the top of his vocation. Now in his mid-twenties, he is contemplating going back to school to complete his bachelor’s degree. Is Peter Thiel correct in his assumptions? For some young people, absolutely. For others, an opportunity such as that would be lost without the background of a college experience. What do you think? Is college for everyone? Would the money best be spent elsewhere? Is there an absolute prescribed time for going to college? Let me know your thoughts and experiences.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.