Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Higher Education in 2022

Predicting the future can be a risky endeavor. In a very short time, conditions can change which make the “prophet” look foolish. Indeed, the ability to accurately predict the future can almost seem to be driven by chance. Mark Twain is reported to have said, “Prophecy: Two bull's eyes out of a possible million.” Despite this, with some environmental scanning (and a dose of humility) it is sometimes possible to make good predictions on what the future may be like.

This paper will make an informed attempt to predict what higher education may be like in the year 2022. What changes may occur? Predictions include international students, technology, public opinion, tuition and access, and the changing role of the campus library.

International Students

As the market for undergraduate enrollment has become increasingly competitive, so too has the market for international students. Universities have put a greater emphasis on the recruitment international students at both the undergraduate and graduate level and this will increase in the next decade. Private industry has continued to demand that higher education prepare a workforce that can function as global citizens. International students are able to help universities in their efforts to provide domestic students with the skills necessary to be competitive in an increasingly global economy.

Universities have recognized the value that international students add to campus not only in terms of providing a diverse learning environment but also in terms of financial revenue. In 2005, it was estimated that international students contributed over $13 billion to the US economy. Almost $9 billion of those funds went to tuition and fees. (NAFSA1, 2006). When looking at the financial contribution these students bring to an institution, the advantages of a strong international student presence on a campus increases. This will continue to make them an important source of revenue in the year 2022.

Although there will be a desire to increase the numbers of international students most campuses will not be successful. Already in 2006 there is concern over the decreasing numbers of international students that are enrolling US institutions of higher education. This concern will increase in the next ten years. The United States has seen a steady decline in international student enrollment numbers since 2002. Although this was initially blamed on the events of September 11, 2001 and the perceived unwelcoming atmosphere that the nation presented to international students, there is more to blame for this decrease.

For too long, the US higher education industry has rested on its reputation when recruiting international students. The higher education industry took the market for granted and was unprepared for competition. From the turn of the 21st century, these students have turned to Australia and the United Kingdom in increasing numbers. This is due, in part, to those country’s coordinated national efforts at recruitment, (something the US has failed to do) and, in part, to a perception that access to the US is increasingly difficult and unpredictable. (Johnson, 2006) As stories of arbitrary visa refusals increase, students are choosing to turn elsewhere and the US will no longer be a desirable destination in the minds of most students.

Enrollment has also dropped as fewer students choose to enroll in their home countries. Decreasing student populations at home have resulted in increased access to their own higher educational system and this trend will continue. Students who in the late 1990s and early 2000s would be denied entrance to the highly competitive local universities are now able to win spots at home and do not need to turn to institutions overseas. Countries that traditionally have sent the US large numbers of international students will continue to strengthen their own system of higher education and fewer students will see a US degree as something of value. When the US government continues to put restrictions on research opportunities for international students (Johnson, 2006) and when the US economy fails to grow at the same rate as their own country, students will realize that there is no economic benefit to studying in the US and will choose to remain home. By 2022, the impact of these trends will be felt throughout all levels of higher education.


In 2006, technology is seen as the savior of higher education. As public funding for higher education decreases and the demands of non-traditional students for alternative access to educational opportunities increases, higher educational institutions of all classifications are looking at technology and technological innovations as the prescription to cure their ills. By 2022 this hope will remain, however, some important lessons will have been learned. Innovations in instruction, increased efficiency, expansion of distance learning opportunities, reduction of support staff and faculty are all hoped for advantages that technological innovations are predicted to bring to the industry by 2022 (Altbach, 408). Some of these will occur but not necessarily as they are envisioned today.

Universities will continue to innovate and the best faculty will use technology to increase student participation and learning. Classroom instruction will become more interactive and high tech because students will demand it. The traditional age student in 2022 will have grown up with his or her own cell phone from the time he or she was in elementary school. These students, with their multi-tasking lifestyle, will not be able to sit in a lecture hall and take notes for an hour.

A blending style of teaching that will allow in-person interaction with a faculty along with off-sight participation will develop. More and more students will alternate between distance learning and the traditional method. The millennial generation will be more comfortable learning from their apartment or room on campus than going to a large lecture hall. This type of participation will allow institutions to combine on campus students with distance learning students in the same classroom. This blending of students into one campus will only be successful for institutions that recognize that the need for student services does not go away when students are not physically on campus and when they effectively use technology to allow off-site students access to campus life (Kendall). By 2022, those successful institutions will see an increase in enrollment and will become models for schools that want to change to meet the demands of the new age. They will use innovations to encourage student creativity and productivity.

By 2022, institutions that are unable to afford the expense required by advances in technology will struggle to maintain their enrollment. They will be unable to meet the demands of their student body and will look for cost cutting measures in other areas to fund their technology costs.

Public Opinion

By 2022, a change of public opinion towards the role of higher education will be on the horizon. Throughout the next decade, there will continue to be a decrease in state funding for higher education. Direct funding to public institutions will decrease to a minimal level (Hovey, 1999). Legislatures will view higher education as a low priority and insist that tuition revenues be used to fund its costs. This opinion will be supported by the public as universities as the importance of the value that the higher education industry serves to society is lost to the public.

By 2022, the largest source of public funding at institutions will be in the form of need based loans and grants to students. The larger, research based universities will see a continuation of research grants from the government but their availability to other institutions will be limited. As this trend in funding continues, state and federal government will increase their demands on institutions for increased reporting requirements, access to student records and for input to governance issues. These demands will not be accompanied by sources of funding. The burden that these factors place on institutions will become heavy enough that there will be a reaction by the industry to move towards changing public opinion. Higher education has enormous public relations machines on their campuses. By 2022, these departments, that were previously put to use to attract students, will increasingly be used to turn public opinion. There will be a concerted effort by the industry to reflect the societal value of higher education. The importance of higher education to the community will become the message.

Tuition and Access

Closely related to public opinion is the issue of rising tuition costs. As noted in the previous section, state governments are less willing to fund higher education. As costs for institutions of higher education continue to rise (health care, labor. etc.), this has created a shortfall in cash. The response by most institutions has been to raise tuition well above inflation rates year after year. This is steadily making a college education more and more unaffordable to those in the lower and middle economic class. As in 2006, in 2022 this will remain true as a higher education becomes increasingly unavailable to large portions of society.

Heywood (2006) reported that parents are more concerned with paying for college costs than they are with retirement. He noted that parents often say, “Too bad about retirement savings; my kids are going to college” (p. 10). In 2022, this will still be a concern for many parents. However, many others will have given up on the idea of college for their kids because even by sacrificing their own retirement they will be unable to save the sums necessary to pay for a college education. These parents will focus on retirement and inform their children they are on their own for paying college costs.

In 2006, many students are paying for college costs by using credit cards. McGlynn (2006) noted that 24% of college students charge tuition on their cards. She also noted that another 71% are charging books and food. This is resulting in huge credit cards debts for students. In 2022, burned by high default rates by college students and recent college graduates, credit cards will be more selective in issuing accounts and students will be less able to turn to them to pay for rising college costs.

Fitzgerald (2004) noted that of 900,000 college-qualified high school graduates from low and moderate income families in 2002, over 500,000 were denied access to higher education by either being prevented from enrolling due to lack of proof of ability to pay or they simply did not attempt to enroll. He wrote, “Such a large group of college-qualified high school graduates denied access today portends substantial losses over the rest of the decade as the number of high school graduates rises to historic levels…This staggering toll suggests that one of the core values we hold as a nation – equal educational opportunity – now stands in stark contrast to reality of college access for low-and-moderate-income students in America today” (p. 14, 15).

In 2022, this trend will continue. Institutions of higher education will make deliberate and strong efforts to provide low income students (particularly those from minority backgrounds) with scholarships in an attempt to keep diversity alive on campus. However, the majority of students will not qualify for significant amounts of aid and a large number will not enroll. Increasing, fewer and fewer students from low and moderate income homes will attend college. This will lead many to conclude that higher education access is a privilege based on income rather than merit which will probably lead to a backlash against higher education in the United States of America.

Changing Role of the Campus Library

In 2022, the role of the library will be greatly changed on campus. With the reality of online access to scholarly material, coupled with the ever increasing costs of higher education, many institutions will make the decision to reduce the role of the library on campus. The beginnings of the trend can be seen in 2006 as academic libraries in the United States have seen their budgets and staffs trimmed in cost-cutting moves. This will result in libraries being used as book storage warehouses and student study spaces with fewer professional librarian supported activities such as reference and instructional services. The fewer number of librarians who remain will be more involved with working with providing access to online resources and support staff management.

The changes in access to scholarly resources are visible in 2006. Google Books is a project of Google which is scanning millions of books and journals and making them available for free to the public. Many publishers of scholarly resources are opening up their collections and relying on advertising to support their businesses. This trend will accelerate and in 2022 many institutions will question the wisdom of supporting a costly library on campus when much of the material is available for free or minimal cost online. The library buildings will remain but the role of the library staff in these buildings will be both reduced and changed.

One example of this is the Federal Government Document Depository Program. Currently, most large academic libraries participate in this program and receive hundred of thousands of print and microfiche material from the Federal government for free. However, as noted in Shuler (2005), the Government Printing Office is seeking to contain costs by shifting from print to electronic access to government documents. By 2022, this shift will have been completed. All government documents which are not classified will be online and there will be no need for library participation in the program except as keepers of pre-digitization era government documents.

Another example of the growing free electronic access to scholarly materials is the open source journal movement. One response to restrictive and expensive traditional journal publishers is for some scholars to create peer-reviewed journals which are available freely online. Ehling (2004) described the development of open source journals at Cornell University and Penn State University which were added by their respective library systems. The author noted, “Presses and libraries can leverage one another’s strengths” (p. 7).

Despite the optimism of the article, problems have become evident in the open source journal movement. Even online journals have expenses and the open source journal publishers have had to charge steep reviewing (redactory) fees to submitters. Further, faculty publishing in these journals have had to deal with bias from senior members of their departments who expect the junior faculty to publish in established journals for tenure or promotion. However, by 2022 these problems will be resolved and the primary expression of peer-reviewed scholarship will be available for free online and this will reduce the role of the library.

Bailey-Hainer and Forsman (2005) wrote about declining state support for higher education and how this will translate for libraries. They predict grim results. They theorize that as revenue falls, institutions of higher education will find new ways to charge for public services. The library is a public service which is hard to charge for and is also expensive. Hence, it is likely to wither.

Tennant (2000) wrote, “The game has changed. We face an array of possibilities and challenges that will leave no library untouched. We are, whether we want to or not, about to become much more than we are now - or much less” (p. 55). In 2022, the role of the library and librarian will be reduced but not eliminated. However, as a consequence, quality information will be more accessible than ever and all will benefit.


What does the future hold for higher education in the United States of America in 2022? It is difficult to know for sure but this article hopefully provides a few good predictions. It is unlikely that everything here will occur but even the misses may still point to potential areas of concern or hope.


Bailey-Hainer, B. & Forsman, R.B. (2005). Redefining the future of academic libraries. Journal of academic librarianship, 31(6), 503-05.

Ehling, T. (2004). The development of an open source publishing system at Cornell and Penn State universities. ARL, n. 237.

Fitzgerald, B.K. (2004). Missed opportunities: Has college opportunity fallen victim to policy drift? Policy drift, 36(4), 10-19.

Gumport, P.J, & Chun, M. (2005). Technology and higher education. (pp. 393-424). In P. G. Altbach, R. O. Berdahl, & P. J. Gumport (Eds.), (2005). American higher education in the twenty-first century: Social. political, and economic challenges. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Heywood, J.C. (2006). Parents worry more about pying for college tham retirmet, survey shows. Diverse issues in higher education, 22(25), 10.

Kendall, J. R. (2005). Implementing the web of student services. (pp. 55-68). In K. Kruger’s (Ed.) Technology in student affairs: Supporting student learning and services. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, Inc.

Johnson, M. (2006, July 28). Toward a new foreign student strategy. Chronicle of higher education, 52(47), B16.

McGlynn, A.P. (2006). College on credit has kids dropping out. Education digest, 71(8), 57-60.

NAFSA. (2005, November 14). The Economic benefits of international education to the United States of America: A statistical Analysis, 2004-2005. Retrieved August 1, 2006 from http://www.nafsa.org/public_policy.sec/international_education_1/economic_imp act_statements_2005.

Shuler, J. (2005). The political and economic future of federal depository libraries. Journal of academic librarianship, 31(4), 377-82.

Tennant, R. (2000). Determining our digital future. American libraries, 31(1), 55.

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