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Current Trends in Higher Education

Instructor: Theresa Spanella

Theresa has taught college Writing for 15 years and is two classes from completing a doctorate in Education

What's trending in higher education? This article will highlight some of the latest trends in education including student loans/debt, career and technical education, earning credit, and course delivery.

Current Trends

We have probably all heard the phrase 'That's trending on Twitter' but most likely, few of us have wondered what was trending in higher education. While there are many trends in education today, this article will highlight a few of the latest trends in higher education including student loans, career and technical education, the ways students can earn credit, and the way(s) material is delivered.

Unlike the latest fashion crazes, which are commonly called trends, in this sense, trend means a general course of development and change. Trends in higher education change yearly and affect almost every facet of higher education.

Student Debt

Well over half of students who graduate from four-year colleges and universities finance their education through student loans. According to The College Board, the average student loan debt is around $30,000 for a bachelor's degree from 2012-2013. In total, well over a trillion dollars is owed in student debt. That is second to what is owned on all American home mortgages. Additionally, students who either graduated or left college before completing their degrees are defaulting on their student loans; it is estimated that over 14% of student debt is currently in default. While policymakers are looking for ways to make student loans easier to repay, colleges and universities are searching for ways to make earning an education more affordable. This has pushed colleges to think creatively about the types of programs they offer, how students earn credit, and the way education is delivered.

Career and Technical Education

In discussions of higher education, academics are typically at the forefront of conversation, and career and technical education (CTE) is often overlooked. CTE is a term used to designate schools that offer specialized education programs in the skilled trades, health sciences, applied sciences, modern technologies and other types of career preparation. In a few states, such as Texas and Georgia, new laws have been passed to increase students' opportunities for gaining technical skills. As such, high schools, community colleges and various companies have joined together to emphasize the importance of CTE. In today's difficult labor market, students with specialized technical skills have an easier time finding jobs. CTE is also usually a more cost-effective way for students to earn their degree, as it usually does not take as long as completing a college degree.

Careers in allied health fields can often be completed at career and technical schools.
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CTE includes a broad range of career paths, such as dental assistant, emergency medical technician, computer networking, digital media, programming, carpentry and even agricultural sciences.

Earning Credit

In an effort to reduce the amount of money students must borrow to complete their degrees, many colleges are rethinking the way students earn credit in an effort to get them 'out the door' a little quicker. While some schools have begun holding classes throughout the entire year with no three-month summer break, other schools have shifted to competency-based learning. Competency-based learning allows students to move through course material at their own pace. Their exam scores rather than the number of hours spent in a classroom dictate how quickly students move through course material. Some institutions that are utilizing competency-based learning are advertising that students can cut the time it takes to complete a degree in half.

Other schools are utilizing prior learning assessment as a way for students to earn credit. Prior learning assessment is a method of awarding students' credit for their military, work and volunteering experience - even their hobbies. The American Council on Education recommends that credit be granted through placement testing and portfolio evaluation. These credits can be applied directly to a students' transcript, alleviating the need to take certain classes. Several national businesses, like Starbucks, are now teaming up with colleges and universities to help their employees earn college credit for on-the-job training.

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