The Future of Higher Education

May 2, 2013Dr. Dustin Swanger

As the President of Fulton-Montgomery Community College it is my job to continually think about the future. What will FM look like ten years from now? How will we need to adapt to our students? What programs will we need? What won’t we do? I, in conjunction with the Board of Trustees, Leadership Team, and college community, will wrestle with these questions in an attempt to lay the groundwork for the future.

There are always predictions of the future; but, they are just that – predictions. They are not facts or truths. They are what we believe will happen. For example, fifteen years ago there were articles in national papers and journals predicting college campuses would be empty wastelands of crumbling buildings; or perhaps, repurposed into some other function for the community. The demise of the college campus, so it was said, was due to the impact of distance learning technologies; everyone would be taking classes on-line from the comfort of their home or office.  However, that prediction has not happened. College campuses have grown and, in fact, most of the students who are taking distance learning classes, at least at community colleges, are also taking classes on campus.

So, what will education look like ten years from now? I highly doubt that higher education will lose the need for a physical place, the actual campus, with faculty and staff who interact with students in classes and on a person-to-person basis. However, how we teach will change, even more than it has to date.

Technology is ever-advancing and our students with it. Students multitask by watching TV, while texting friends, reading an assignment on their computer or tablet device, and checking their Facebook account. Students will have a very difficult time focusing on one thing at a time; for example, a faculty member giving a lecture.  Education will need to keep up with technology, providing students the opportunity to multitask while learning in the classroom.

Faculty may need to provide “lectures” in small increments and then ask students to search the web for examples, case studies, or counter arguments. They will need to utilize the vast amount of web video available to educate and entertain students. Group work will continue to grow in its importance in higher education. Students will need to interact with each other to learn to communicate face-to-face and not just by texting.

The impact of this prediction, if I am correct, means that FM will have to invest in even more technology for our classrooms. We will need to rethink classroom furniture to something that is easily moved around for small group work, for lecture, and for media presentations. We will need to create more group meeting spaces for students. We will need to expand our web presence so that students have access to classroom materials 24/7.

FM will need to continue to remain a “high touch” environment because students will need more nurturing than ever before.  While we continue to gravitate toward technological communications, students will starve for personal connections. Humans use technology, but we’re social beings at our core.

FM will continue to think about the future and prepare for it as best we can in order to serve our students and community. With any luck, we’ll be right.

Dr. Swanger is President of FM.

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