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Five Pillars for Education in the Next Decade

I continue to hear stories of new colleges popping up all over the place. By that I mean they’re popping up all over the world.

Anyone looking for a new experience in higher education?

international student

The Minerva Schools, which are part of the Keck Graduate Institute, now offer students the opportunity to take classes and travel the world, immersing them in local culture in cities such as Hong Kong, Cape Town and Mumbai at cut-rate costs. This makes it incredibly attractive to young adults. Other entrepreneurial schools offer post-secondary education online for free and, consequently, have attracted hundreds of thousands of students. Whether or not they offer an official degree, they’re causing traditional schools to re-examine their model for school.

First-year students at the Minerva Schools don’t focus on traditional liberal arts classes such as humanities or economics, but rather on cornerstone skills such as theoretical analysis, data analysis, and communication. They require a level of maturity from students; determination and self-direction. It’s a project being funded with $25 million in venture capital from investors who believe our current education system is broken.

Some of these investors actually come from the higher education world.

Five Essentials for Tomorrow’s Education

Over the next decade, it appears there are five non-negotiables that both students and their families (read: parents) want in a higher ed experience:

1. Quality

I am hearing more and more from parents and students that their current school experience is sub-par; when they compare it to other similar schools, it seems inferior. People are comparing schools like crazy and they know what “excellent” looks like.

2. Accessibility

So far, education has been far more accessible to the rich than to the poor; to the student living in suburbia than the one living in urban “ghettos.” Education must have a price tag, but we must find a way for anyone who’s ready for it to get it.

3. Customization

So many retailers have found a way to service a huge population and still customize the product or experience for their customer. Education must follow suit. Students want to feel their preparation has been tailored for their needs and aspirations.

4. Affordability

The biggest complaint against higher education today is the cost. Attending college has become the second most expensive purchase we make, behind buying a home. And there is no guarantee of a job at the end. Schools must balance value and cost.

5. Relevant

So many experts tell us we are currently not educating students with an “end game” in mind. Classrooms and faculty continue the same way they have in the past, yet students graduate into jobs that didn’t even exist when they were freshmen.

The bottom line?

We must embrace disruption in education. We must become more pragmatic, which means we continue with the rigors of scholarly learning experience, but insure the classroom is preparing them for the world of tomorrow, the one they’ll spend their careers in and navigate for those behind them.

I am saddened when I meet faculty — in high schools or colleges — who are so beaten up and so weary of the system, they’ve gotten stuck in their ways. They are in survival mode and look forward to weekends, not students’ achieving goals.

Some believe we are on the verge of an education revolution, just as transportation, technology and other industries have experienced over the last 20 years. If this is true, we must lead the change, not merely react to it.

Your thoughts?


  1. Chris on October 30, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    Greetings Tim,
    Thanks for sharing these important thoughts about Higher Education. Here at the small Christian college I work at, we have taken some steps to address these issues you have pointed out. We have scrapped the old “major” model and opened up every course offered along with a consortium with an Online school and an organization that facilitates internships to provide a wide “buffet” of course offerings and experiences. When a freshman comes in they are immediately put into a “discover” program that instructs them on how to process life using a biblical model, uses personality and skills test to determine giftedness, and faculty mentoring to walk students through a process of matching their unique skill set and calling to a career path. By the end of their Freshmen year they have entered a “develop” stage where they customize their academic plan using all the resources of the college around what it is they have discovered. So an academic plan will reflect certain core courses the college believes are indispensable, but the remaining are individualized to what the student believes is their calling after graduation. So a student wants to work overseas in a start up business in a large city, we combine courses from our cross-cultural department with some urban ministries courses, some online business courses, and an overseas business internship. An academic adviser from our school of leadership will validate the academic plan to be sure it meets academic standards established by the college. The finished product is an individualized academic plan that fits the student and their career goals. There is immediate intrinsic value in what they created, because it is crafted around their passions and skill sets. Finally, as seniors the student takes a “deploy” course prepping them for post graduation. We focus on teaching them networking skills, job search advise, resume building and interviewing skills. The purpose of deploy is that a student will walk off the graduation platform, diploma in hand, and a clear next step to take.

    The world is changing to fast to keep old Higher Ed processes in place. The new century demands new models for preparing students to meet it’s challenges. Thank you for your work in keeping these issues in front of us and encouraging us to get out of the box.

    • Tim Elmore on October 31, 2013 at 2:48 pm

      Wow, I really like the emphasis you all have placed on mentoring one on and one and helping students identify their gifts in order to pursue their careers. Thanks for all you do!

  2. JennyL on November 2, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    From early on, I’d like to see an emphasis on “how” to think/learn vs. “what” to think/learn. Teaching kids to jump through hoops and regurgitate info for A’s does not serve anyone. They spend so many years being a mirror that it’s no wonder they are lost when they graduate…they’ve never looked in the mirror. In some cases, education is bordering on brain-washing — a scary scenario! Being able to work the system is rewarded, but those that are non-traditional learners and don’t fit in the system are lost…dropping out, becoming depressed, turning to drugs, etc. This is a HUGE loss in many ways. When you look at some of our “big brains,” they typically did not do well at school, but they changed the world in profound and positive ways. They thought (and lived) outside of the box.
    Doctors have moved into more of a consultant role as information has become so abundant and patients are coming in more “educated.” Perhaps education needs to move into this direction as well. Guide students in “how” to navigate this world of information and experiences in order to obtain knowledge. Discernment is a key concept. Not everything on the internet is true/right.
    I’d also like to see more real-world connections to the educational world. Have students working with corporations/foundations/communities and vice versa. Polytechnic learning is so valuable. It would be nice to see this bridge created. The wins for each side are infinite.

    • Tim Elmore on November 5, 2013 at 2:01 pm

      Hi Jenny, Thanks for the comment! I agree. We must teach today’s students how to think, not what to think.

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Five Pillars for Education in the Next Decade