Sandy Gannon
Veteran CLS Employee Sandy Gannon Retires
January 9, 2012
Dean James Pappas of CLS
Dean Pappas Recognized by AGLSP
February 9, 2012

Trends in Higher Education

Photograph of James P. Pappas for the Trends in Higher Education article

Paving the Way to a Bright Future

For those of us dedicated to adult and continuing education, awareness of emerging issues in our field is paramount. Staying in tune with trends helps us meet the needs of adult learners – the crux of our calling to this sector of higher education.

In this issue of Vantage Point, we recognize the importance of forecasting new and exciting developments for the College of Liberal Studies while also paying tribute to and learning from our past. The previous issue of Vantage Point – our special 50th anniversary edition – honored our last half century and how it got us to where we are today, but now is an appropriate time to look ahead.

There are several developments in higher education that are on the increase: 1) blended learning, 2) certificate programs and 3) the nontraditional doctorate.

In 2009, the Department of Education commissioned a study to compare online and face-to-face education. In that study, more than 1,000 research papers were reviewed to assess effectiveness. The finding was that online education was equal to or better than face-to-face education.

Some of the reasons included time on task (those who came to online education focused on learning as opposed to sitting in a large classroom where they were more passive), learning readiness (working at times when they were attentive to the learning process) and personal motivation (completing the learning tasks in which they wished to engage).

The finding was that online education was equal to or better than face-to-face education.

One of the more interesting outcomes of the study, however, was that blended or hybrid learning, where the students had both face-to-face and online experiences, was superior to either online or face-to-face alone. As a result, many of our institutions are now exploring various blended learning models to see how they can create learning environments that include the best of both worlds.

Here at the College of Liberal Studies, we are experimenting with a number of blended learning models to determine which will best serve our adult learners. These include having an accelerated face-to-face segment over a weekend, followed by online learning and followed by a second, concluding face-to-face weekend. With the emergence of new technologies that will allow application both on desktop and mobile devices, the potential for blended learning is even more promising. In a few years, we may have the second wave of distance education that blends the best of online and face-to-face education for our working adults.

Another trend we’re seeing is the emerging need for certificate programs. As our nation faces a weak economy and a bleak job outlook,  many workers find that re-credentializing themselves, even if they already have a degree, is one way to stand out from the crowd.

As learners strengthen their knowledge base, they wish to have it credentialized; they also wish to have an efficient way of demonstrating their specialized skills sets. The result has been the growth in credit and noncredit certificates as a way of updating one’s skills, often without the time and costs associated with earning an additional degree. Institutions of higher education are now addressing that trend with an array of new certificate programs.

Data are emerging that people in the workplace are now likely to have six to 10 jobs in a lifetime and up to three or four changes in actual career fields. If one adds to that the explosion in information and knowledge, the need to upgrade one’s learning becomes evident. In fact, recent studies have shown that for many of the science and technology disciplines, the half-life of the degree is approximately the length of time it takes to complete it, e.g., four to five years.

In the information technology field, many of the IT certificate programs are seen as important as actual degree completion. Employers want to see that new hires are indeed knowledgeable about the latest developments in their fields. Older workers wanting to enhance their employability will also want to demonstrate that they have kept up to date.

As learners strengthen their knowledge base, they wish to have it credentialized; they also wish to have an efficient way of demonstrating their specialized skills sets. The result has been the growth in credit and noncredit certificates as a way of updating one’s skills, often without the time and costs associated with earning an additional degree. Institutions of higher education are now addressing that trend with an array of new certificate programs.

At CLS, we offer a certificate in administrative leadership, which is administered through the OU Graduate College. Not only does the completion of a certificate program indicate that the student has specialized knowledge in this area, the program is a good way for the student to try out the field of administrative leadership and consider earning an A.L. degree.

One other development that higher education will see more of is the growth of nontraditional doctorate programs. It is interesting to study how the doctorate – a mark of distinction rooted in tradition – is evolving to meet the needs of adult students.

One other development that higher education will see more of is the growth of nontraditional doctorate programs. It is interesting to study how the doctorate – a mark of distinction rooted in tradition – is evolving to meet the needs of adult students.

Many institutions have stepped forward with a variety of nontraditional doctoral programs – compressed, online or hybrid programs designed for students who are already practicing professionals in their career fields.

Here at OU, we offer a Ph.D. in organizational leadership. Developed in the early 1990s, it is primarily delivered to military personnel and their families in a cohort format. On-site courses are offered at the university’s locations in Heidelberg, Germany, and Norman. OU professors fly to Germany to teach courses in an intense two-weekend format. Courses offered in Oklahoma are taught in two four-week July residency periods.

All of these developments have been evolving over the last few decades and only continue to grow in popularity. As can be expected with any deviation from the norm, a sense of tension exists in regard to these “new” programs. Often they are perceived as less rigorous, but these misconceptions are countered with a solid commitment to the CLS founding principles and a firm screening process for prospective students. Moreover, working adult students are eager to participate in demanding and high-quality programs that will both engage and prepare them for richer professional lives.

As we look toward the future, it is essential to be mindful of trends and how they impact us at the College of Liberal Studies. The emerging educational needs of adult learners, the increasing innovations in educational delivery approaches and the everevolving advances in technology and the competitiveness of the changing educational marketplace suggest the future of adult and continuing education will remain an exciting place to be.

Until next time.

James Pappas signature for the trends in higher education article

James P. Pappas, Ph.D.

Vice President for University Outreach

and Dean of the College of Liberal Studies

Mary Wuestewald
Mary Wuestewald specializes in digital and content marketing at OU Outreach. In 2015, she earned a master's degree in Strategic Communication from OU’s College of Journalism and Mass Communication. She currently contributes to Insight magazine, the CLS blog and CLS social media efforts.

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