3 trends in higher education for 2014

If you graduated from college, you know what your future grad can expect, right? Maybe not.

The purpose of college—to educate students and prepare them for the future—will certainly withstand time, but some of the tenets of the college experience may change. Here are 3 of the top trends in higher education for 2014:

  1. Accelerated graduation
    Colleges are being pressed to shorten the time it takes students to meet graduation requirements, and they may respond by allowing students to set their own work pace and granting college credits for real-life experience.

    Setting your own pace, a strategy called competency-based learning, allows students to test out of classes when they've mastered the material—not when they've completed a predetermined number of classes or logged a certain amount of class time. This strategy will allow students to quickly move through course material—and consequently, classes and credits—without being slowed down by traditional scheduling restrictions.

    Awarding class credit for real-life work experience is another way colleges may try to reduce the time span from orientation through graduation. Students who've invested a lot of time in prior training, volunteer, military, and extracurricular activities may be given the opportunity to "prove" the creditworthiness of their experiences by taking a test or presenting a portfolio of work.
  2. Skill-focused learning
    Students with specialized skills are better prepared to weather unpredictable job markets. Going forward, it will benefit higher-education institutions to offer programs of study designed to develop students' academic and vocational skills in preparation for specific careers.

    In addition to arming future grads with marketable job skills, emphasis on the value of vocational education can encourage students who have a natural aptitude for technical work to develop their skills and pursue lucrative careers.
  3. Cost consciousness
    The majority of college graduates in the U.S. left school with a hefty amount of student debt in 2012, so it's not surprising that higher-education institutions are feeling the heat to cut costs. Because state and federal funding for higher education is unlikely to increase in the foreseeable future, policymakers are pushing colleges to find ways to increase enrollment and graduation rates while decreasing costs and improving efficiency.

    Some things about college may never change: good friends, bad cafeteria food, and boring professors; but it's smart to stay informed about the things that could change.