Traditionally, the start of the new year is a time to evaluate the opportunities and challenges that may lie ahead. In the world of higher education, 2016 seems likely to represent plenty of both as the industry grapples with the increasing influence of technology on learning, ever-present financial challenges and even the prospect of a new generation of students with different skill sets and expectations than their predecessors. As a new academic semester begins, we take this opportunity to look back on some of the emerging trends of last year, and look ahead as we predict their likely impact on higher education over the next twelve months.
The exact time of death for the unassuming textbook is always something that is hotly debated among academicians and yet, every year textbooks continue to remain in remarkably healthy form. Successive surveys point to the overwhelming preferences of 18-35 year olds for print over digital, but that may not be the whole story. Michael Kozlowski, writing in last month’s GoodEReader, suggests that “the entire book-selling industry have all proclaimed that e-book sales have plateaued and print is making a comeback.” While the imminent demise of the textbook might be premature, it’s clear that educators and students alike are keeping their options open and that the hardcover book will increasingly be part of a wider set of learning resources supporting the academic mission.
Rising concerns over affordability and graduation rates will continue to prompt colleges and universities to explore solutions to address both. Through their partnership with XanEdu, Barnes & Noble College allows faculty to create custom course materials within FacultyEnlight, an online faculty adoption platform, so they can choose the right content — and control prices for their students. “Our origins were really as a technology company,” explains Brett Costello, XanEdu Inc.’s Sr. Vice President, Sales and Marketing, “and XanEdu was created as a way to provide faculty members with access to supplemental learning materials in a digital format.” The company has since grown in tandem with educators’ need to control costs while also providing more customized content to meet and improve learning objectives.
Its library of more than 8 million items includes journal and scholarly articles, book chapters, business cases, multimedia, original or self-authored material, OER, adaptive learning materials and even assessment tools. Digital materials can be delivered to a school’s LMS or directly to laptops, desktops, tablets and mobile devices. Course material formats will continue to evolve and faculty will be able to combine a variety of content as needed to best fit the requirements of their courses and the needs of their students.
Born after 1995, Generation Z is coming of age for college enrollment and is likely to represent one of the most significant generations to shape higher education thus far. “They’ve grown up in a fast-moving, ultra-connected age,” explained Lisa Malat, Barnes & Noble College’s Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer in the publication of the company’s Getting to Know Gen Z: Exploring a New Generation’s Expectations for Higher Education report. “They really are the ultimate do-it-yourselfers, and if this is the way they live, we shouldn’t expect them to learn any differently,” she added. It’s advice colleges and universities are heeding with changes in everything from enrollment strategies to the adoption of more collaborative learning platforms to the kinds of content created for their course offerings.
Listrak, a company that helps clients personalize the retail experience across all of their touch points, indicates that last month represented the most connected shopping season in history, with nearly a third of all internet sales occurring on mobile devices. But mobile devices aren’t only being used for shopping. “The phone is the tool students use most often,” says Tamara Vostok, Director of Consumer Marketing, speaking of Barnes & Noble College’s student app. “There is just so much potential, so much more opportunity to reach our students and provide them with better information on a variety of platforms,” she adds.
Increasingly, colleges are turning to app developers to provide more tools for their students, ranging from beacon technology to campus navigation aids to learning and specialized research tools, in a trend that is likely to proliferate this year.
Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through College Admissions, a report suggesting improvements to college admission policies and endorsed by top educators, recommends that colleges may want to consider gearing their enrollment strategies to students who demonstrate more collaborative skills, civic engagement and genuine passion over brilliant SAT and ACT scores. It’s a trend colleges are already adopting in an effort to bridge the skills gap and provide more work-ready graduates.
Within the next five years, Millennials will become 50 percent of the U.S. workforce, a group especially passionate about the importance and value of education, especially as it relates to finding a job and preparing them for a career. “Career prep is a number one driver for enrollment in colleges and universities, and alumni giving is most influenced by how the school helped them launch their careers,” Malat notes, “so we really believe this is the time for everyone — students, colleges, universities, advisors, employers and parents — to rethink the career roadmap.”
With employers more focused than ever on students with real business experience and job skills, Barnes & Noble College’s research, The Millennial Mindset: How Colleges Can Accelerate the Career Prep Process, already highlights the role colleges and universities can play in helping students develop the skills essential for success in a competitive job market while making their educational experience relevant to their future careers.