2016’s Top 5 Trends in Alternative Higher Education

2016 was a busy year in alternative higher education! From MOOCs to coding bootcamps to Online Program Managers (OPMs) to universities, all players kept busy innovating and pushing the boundaries to move us toward a world where more adults feel prepared to engage and succeed in society. Here’s a rundown of 2016’s Top 5 Trends in Higher Education:

  1. Greater job-placement accountability in higher ed
  2. Increased focus on employer-paid coding programs
  3. Growth of tech companies creating online degree programs for universities
  4. Continued experimentation between universities and alternative education providers on credit-bearing programs
  5. Emergence of “Hyper colleges” – a category of alternative universities that focus on shorter, less expensive, higher employability models

In the world of higher education, 2016 was the year that big players such as Coursera, Udacity, General Assembly (GA) and others doubled down on their skills-based, employer-paid learning solutions for adults. GA announced that over 25% of part-time students are paid for by their employer and released an outcomes framework and audited outcome numbers to validate their success helping students find jobs. Coursera began more aggressively courting employers and highlighting skills-based courses on their platform, a nod to student’s desire for job-applicable courses. CodePath is yet another code school that signifies the focus on employer-paid training – the school is funded entirely through paid training seats.

On the credit-bearing side of higher education, more players created variations of the online program management model. Guild Education, Entangled Solutions, and others offered their services of building online degree programs to universities for a flat-fee rather than the revenue share model that 2U popularized. Guild announced a partnership with Chipotle this year to help their employees earn credit toward college degrees.

These two trends underscore that credentials still matter. Interestingly,, 70%80% of coding bootcamp and MOOC students already have bachelor’s degrees.

A plausible argument for this is that students who already have their bachelor degrees are able to spend time and money pursuing other studies while someone without a bachelor’s might feel that their time and money should be prioritized for first obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

This begs the question: if alternative education programs, such as MOOCs and coding bootcamps which focus on reducing cost or increasing ROI could award college credit, would more students earn a bachelors by taking alternative programs?

2016 was the first full year that experiments along this line of thought played out. ASU and EdX’s Global Freshman Year, announced in 2015, had a rocky start in late 2015 with just 323 of 34,086 registered students (.9%) choosing to receive credit. A report in April 2016 highlighted that an Algebra course had received over 17,800 registrants. The program presumably continued to grow in 2016, however there is little public data available at this time to confirm the total program’s size at the end of 2016.

The Department of Education’s EQUIP program announced in August that eight participants had been selected to participate in an experiment allowing federal aid (pell-grants) to be applied toward coding schools/MOOCs if they partnered with a university. These partnerships between MOOC/Bootcamps and for-credit  universities are in their infancy and we just beginning of understand how they will play out.

So will 2017 see a continuation of these trends? The emergence of more alternative colleges portends so. MissionU founded by Adam Braun is yet another school created in 2016 whose mission is to provide a low-cost alternative to college. Make School, MissionU, and Uncollege are alternative college programs I’ve heard referred to as “hyper colleges” – schools focused on providing a college-like experience, in a short time frame (1-2year programs), that are more job- and skill-focused and lower cost.

We’ll have to wait to see what 2017 brings us, but the trend of legacy institutions partnering with disruptive education providers will likely continue.

Recap of 2016’s Top 5 Trends in Higher Education:

  1. Greater job-placement accountability in higher ed
  2. Increased focus on employer-paid coding programs
  3. Growth of tech companies creating online degree programs for universities
  4. Continued experimentation between universities and alternative education providers on credit-bearing programs
  5. Emergence of “Hyper colleges” category of alternative college providers – schools focusing on shorter, less expensive, higher employability models

Bonus Trend: Since you’ve made it this far, here’s a bonus, albeit disheartening, trend: Several for-profit universities continued to close or settle major lawsuits throughout 2015 and 2016. Charges brought by the government ranged from enrolling students through illegal means (Education Management Corp, $95.5mm settlement) to trapping students in predatory loans (Corinthian College, $530mm fine, Corinthian forced into bankruptcy) to lying about post-graduate employment rates (DeVry, $100mm) – just to name a few. Others in the hot spot included ITT, Heritage College, and Trump University.

This sobering trend is a reminder that for-profit education providers, like many of the ones I positively mentioned earlier in the article, have a great responsibility to protect students while innovating. Here’s to 2017 – a year of responsible innovation in higher education.

[image credit: CB Insights]

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