Thursday, April 8, 2010

More Predictions

A few days ago I wrote about speaking to a group of accountants here in Richmond about the future of higher education. At that time, I made a prediction about Google (or some similar organization) getting into higher education in a serious manner during the next decade.

Today, I wanted to give you a few of my other predictions. Not sure that I entirely believe any or all of them but it is always interesting to contemplate how the world of education will evolve over the next ten years.

Here you go:

(1) – Accounting programs will begin to require less accounting coverage. I think it is unrealistic to expect students to learn more and more accounting in college before they have sufficient practical experience to grasp what they are learning. I could give you a list of 50 things we commonly teach students today that they cannot possibly understand fully without additional real life experience. I have long argued that the flaw in the 150 hour requirement is that the profession was dissatisfied with the amount that college students could absorb so more hours were thrown at the problem. That is like Congress throwing money at problems; it does not necessarily solve anything.

I think what will happen is that states will eventually require fewer hours of accounting in college and then require three years of practical experience to get certified. But, during that period, the states will require 200 hours of CPE per year. The new accountants can tailor these hours to help them gain the knowledge they need in parallel to their actual work experience. You still get the same amount of education but the last 600 hours are done while the person is also discovering how the working world operates.

There is just a limit to the amount of accounting, tax, auditing, systems, and the like that a student can actually grasp while in college. I think we have passed that limit.

(2) – Textbooks will change radically. Obviously, I am biased here since I just released a brand new Financial Accounting textbook that has a revolutionary new design (free online, Socratic method, videos). However, traditional textbooks today are not much different than they were 50 years ago. Like newspapers and magazines that are also in the information conveyance business, they have failed to evolve and probably face the same future. If you ask students about textbooks, the three phrases that you are most likely to hear are “costs too much,” “boring,” and “confusing.” Radically better textbooks would immediately enliven the college education experience from Maine to Montana and from Florida to Alaska. I would love to think that my new textbook is a step along that path. Regardless, a system where students pay $175 for a book they will not read and cannot understand is destined for eventual replacement.

(3) – All programs (from poetry to political science) will start including a “finding a career” component. As the cost of a college education skyrockets, the interest (of both student and parent) in career opportunities goes up each year. I love liberal arts; I love learning for the sheer joy of learning. However, students want to leave college with some reasonable chance of making a decent wage. I think if liberal arts programs are going to remain viable over the next ten years they will have to acknowledge and address that concern.

(4) – Some (maybe many) universities will stop having a physical campus. Historically, traditional colleges brought their students to a campus to live so they could sit at the feet of their professors. As courses become more innovative, then I think the amount of actual physical interaction will decrease. At some point, a school will say “listen, we can teach you just as well in England as we can here on campus.” When that happens, the need for the cost and maintenance of a campus will come into question. I do think, though, that before this happens, online courses are going to have to make some type of major breakthrough. At present, no one seems totally comfortable with the quality of online courses. Over the next ten years, though, I think someone is going to come up with better online ideas. When that happens, four years of living on a college campus may no longer be needed.

(5) – Courses will start being designed in many different time frames. Instead of 150 minutes of class each week for 14-15 weeks per semester, courses may be for just a few hours or may be for hundreds of hours stretched over years. The current course system is a “one-size-fits-all” type of box. Courses are expanded or trimmed to fit into the allotted time schedule. That might have been necessary in 1960 but do we still believe that such a high percentage of classes have to fit such a structured format?

(6) – Some courses will stop being subject matter driven. Instead, new courses will be created to bring about certain changes in a student such as thinking skills, finding answers, and critical analysis. Then, each week, a different discipline will address that central topic from its own perspective. Think about “finding answers” in biology one week followed by “finding answers” in accounting the next followed by “find answers” in Shakespeare the next. Wouldn't the student come out with a wealth of knowledge? I have long argued that (in the day of Google) we have to get away from an obsession for the conveyance of information. If students can find the weight of the Earth in 10 seconds on Google, why do they need to memorize the formula for that calculation? Courses will become more interested in using information than memorizing it.

These are just a few of my thoughts on where college education is going between 2010 and 2020. I am probably 100 percent wrong but it is always interesting to speculate about such matters.

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