We are in the midst of a major shakeup in higher education. Dozens of colleges have closed in the past couple of years (hundreds if you include failed for-profit chains). The closure parade is growing so fast that Education Dive is maintaining a running list of closures. Meantime, mega-universities have emerged with large online initiatives that have impacted the entire field.

Sub-$20,000 and even sub-$10,000 online master’s degrees at scale exist, led by the 10,000-student “largest in the world” online master’s of science in computer science degree at Georgia Tech. UMUC, SNHU, ASU, WGU and others are leading the scaling of online programs. That is not to mention the expansive master’s programs launched by edX and Coursera, with the UPenn baccalaureate to be launched this fall. These programs continue to expand, collectively adding 100,000 or more students each year. SNHU has just announced plans for hiring 350 staffers for a new center in Tucson, Ariz., to provide student support for expansions in the western part of the country. Of course, these students who enroll in the rapidly growing mega-programs de facto will not enroll in traditional-scale online programs, leaving a diminishing pool of prospects for traditional online programs.

Competition in higher education is not the only challenge facing traditional online learning programs. Large employers have increasingly dropped the baccalaureate requirement for applicants to many of their position openings. The advent of coding camps and similar specialized skill-building opportunities that are substituted for traditional credentials put further pressure on our online programs.

As more employers and prospective students question the investment in higher education, overall college enrollments have declined in each of the past half dozen years. And a further decline of 15 percent is predicted over the next half dozen years.

These factors have combined to prompt columnist Jeff Selingo to suggest that the future of college looks like the future of retail. Facing these market factors, colleges have brought online learning and professional, continuing education into the center of university operations to stabilize and grow institutional enrollments. Entire industries are needing upgrading and retooling for their employees. Many are doing this in-house, but microcredentialing and certifications can enable universities to provide validated learning opportunities to meet the needs of the 60-year learner.

In this changing environment of rapidly expanding competition and institutional expectations, how do deans and directors responsible for online learning create a viable vision for growth in the next several years? It is not enough to simply project online growth rates of the past — we must account for the expanding competition in a dynamic marketplace.

Here are five things you can do to begin to build a framework for the future.

  • First, identify your strengths in terms of reputation, resources (including subject area experts) and appeal to prospective students. These are your foundation for the future. Over time you may seek to branch out into new areas, but it makes sense to capitalize on your strengths in the near term.
  • Second, carefully and thoroughly examine the marketplace. What other institutions are serving the areas of your strength; how are they marketing their programs; how do your degree costs compare to theirs; are there geographic, specific corporate employers or other niches where your institution has an advantage?
  • Third, build a team of innovative corporate, agency and institutional advisers who can best report on near-term and long-term demands for expertise among new hires and employees. Tap that team to identify niches in which you might succeed in attracting and placing students.
  • Fourth, build a focus group of prospective, recently admitted and new students to gather the priorities and considerations they apply in making selection of a university. Identify methods and modes, topics and fields that will resonate with new prospects.
  • Fifth, and ongoing, assemble data from the Department of Labor and any other sources on career growth and industry needs in areas you are considering based on the prior four actions. Merge these data with your own internal data that characterize successful students. Create a dashboard of info in these areas that can quickly and easily be updated to track changes.

These steps will help you to create a framework for the future of your online program initiatives. Drawing on your strengths, building programs that experts expect to be in high demand, targeting to locations and industry markets where your reputation is strong, and marketing in ways that have proven to appeal to your students are key components of the framework. It is a framework that you will need to revisit each and every year. Competition is changing rapidly; just five years ago the marketplace looked very different. Employer needs are also changing rapidly; AI technology is altering their needs every year, and the potential of quantum computing assists in the coming five to 10 years will create a surge in AI deep learning that will trigger a massive turnover of jobs.

The future is change, and the mode is mobile. It belongs to the agile who follow a sound planning framework.

This post originally ran May 15th in Inside Higher Ed’s Inside Digital Learning blog.

If young Millennials and Gen Z’ers continue to disrupt through greater adoption of other modes of transportation in the sharing economy and advancements in driver-assisted and self-driving vehicles continue, expect our cities to start to transform. With less disposable income than previous generations, a heighten consciousness toward the environment and disinclination to purchase big ticket items, it is likely that these young adults will adopt micro-mobility methods of transportation. If these generations fuel the growth in e-scooters, e-bikes and pedal bikes and e-scooters as major modes of commuting, then one can expect changes to our cities, such as safety lanes, dedicated lanes, charging stations and a decrease in one-person automobile-owned commutes. The carbon footprint could also be reduced with an increase in health as well. With change, comes opportunities for institutions of higher education. New degrees, certificates and opportunities in the trades will emerge.

Generation Z and Millennials, coupled with favorable trends regarding renewable energy and resource sharing, are quickly fueling a change within the transportation landscape.  Some have labeled the phenomenon “micro-mobility.” This term originally referred to personal vehicles for one or two passengers with the most common example being a standard pedal bike.  Now, however, it describes new forms of transportation that include docked bikes, e-bikes, e-scooters, and even skateboards or e-skateboards often used in an urban setting.

E-bikes and e-scooters have emerged as primary options for riders looking for micro-mobility in large city markets. The first semblance of modern bikeshare was seen in Copenhagen in 1995. However, it took 15 years for large-scale adoption of the bikesharing practice in the U.S., with Washington D.C. launching Capital Bikeshare as a commitment to the bikeshare model, replacing the pilot program launched two years earlier. In 2013, New York city launched its corporate sponsorship funding bikeshare program, a unique model using no public funds. That year, Chicago and San Francisco also launched their bikesharing programs. The key features of these bikesharing systems were dock stations and monthly membership fees.

It was not until 2017 that the defining feature of micro-mobility began to emerge: a dockless system. Private companies like LimeBikes and Vbikes launched their dockless bikes in cities including San Francisco. However, in just a year, the dockless micro-mobility model has all but shifted to e-scooters. A  pilot program in Washington D.C. originally had five companies offering dockless bikes, with promises of expanding the bike-sharing market. By Spring 2018, the program had almost completely shifted to e-scooters, with two of the biggest dockless bike operators, Mobike and Ofo, leaving the pilot that summer, citing an over-regulated market. At the same time, dockless e-scooters became popular, with all but the Uber-owned company Jump choosing to fill its government-given allocation of micro-mobility vehicles exclusively with scooters. Many other U.S. cities are following this trend. Shared pedal bikes are quickly disappearing in cities including Seattle, Washington D.C., Dallas, Camden, Chicago, and Boston in 2018.

Micro-mobility companies report that electric vehicles are much more popular for ridesharing, indicating that dockless e-bikes are twice as popular as standard bikes. Even more popular than dockless e-bikes are dockless e-scooters, with micro-mobility companies reporting that dockless e-scooters are two and a half times as popular among riders. These companies are responding accordingly. One of the biggest e-scooter companies, Lime, was originally called LimeBikes, but rebranded in May 2018, transitioning from dockless e-bikes to dockless e-scooters in May 2018.

Among micro-mobility companies, e-scooters are seeing the highest rates of adoption in U.S. metropolitan areas. In under one year, e-scooters saw 3.6%  growth, similar to the growth seen by ridesharing giants like Uber and Lyft. Bikesharing companies like Motivate have seen positive growth in the past eight years, but the future is uncertain. The adoption of bikesharing will see a healthy bump due to the advent of the e-bike; however, bikesharing will also  have a very large segment of its market taken by the more popular e-scooter option. It is clear that e-scooters are the dominant option in the micro-mobility market. Ridesharing options have all seen logarithmic growth, meaning that in eight years, the e-scooter market can expect to see much greater linear growth than 28.8%. Given these forecasts, the main focus of this paper will be on dockless e-scooters.

Click here to download the white paper “Micro-Mobility, E-Scooters and Implications for Higher Education”.

UPCEA joined with ACE and 35 other organizations yesterday to send a letter to the House Committee on Appropriations as they were approving spending bills for the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education for fiscal year 2020. Today, the House Committee on Appropriations approved its bill, allocating $75.9 billion to the Department of Education (ED). The measure would increase the maximum Pell Grant award by $150 and boost funding for the National Institutes of Health by $2 billion, among the overall increases for student aid, higher education programs, and research.  We joined with ACE and 35 other higher education associations sent a letter to the committee in advance of the vote, expressing support and noting that the funding levels, if enacted, would “have a profoundly positive impact on the millions of college students who rely on federal financial aid to afford college.”

“The funding levels provided in this bill would, if enacted, have a profoundly positive impact on the millions of college students who rely on federal financial aid to afford college. The bill provides a $150 increase in the maximum Pell Grant, an increase that allows the grant to keep pace with inflation,” the groups wrote. “The bill also recognizes the vital role biomedical research plays in improving the quality of life for all Americans, while also strengthening our economy and global competitiveness, by providing a $2 billion increase in funding for research at the National Institutes of Health. ”

The $75.9 billion for ED includes $24.9 billion for federal student aid programs ($492 million above FY 2019) and $2.7 billion for higher education programs ($431 million above FY 2019). (Click here for a detailed breakdown of these totals.)

This legislation is a starting point​ for negotiations for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to approve any spending bills.

Click here to read our letter to Chairwoman Lowey and Ranking Member Granger.

Many moons ago I wrote about the UPCEA Hallmark of Excellence in Online Leadership – Professionalism and how online leaders could begin implementing aspects of that Hallmark in their performance appraisals and professional development plans of staff members (see Professionalism and Staff Evals).

The other day I read this piece on the Gallup Talent Blog. One paragraph stuck out to me,

“When Gallup talked to exiting workers, they found two fascinating bits of information: First, more than half (52%) of them said their manager or organization could have done something to keep them from leaving. Second, 51% said that in the three months before their departure neither their manager nor any other company leader had spoken with them about their job satisfaction or their future.”

The author provides eight recommendations that align with my suggestions in my earlier blog post (always good to receive that validation).

Further, both my blog post and the Gallup piece align with a recent presentation I gave at the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) annual meeting.

I hope you’ll take some time to review the Gallup recommendations. Attracting and retaining our future PCO leaders is EVERYONE’S job!

And now for your George Michael reference: ‘Move On’ appeared on George Michael’s 1996 release Older. This was his first release after a six-year hiatus from recording.

Quantum computing will burst onto the educational technology scene. Are you preparing now?

The quantum era will soon be upon us. The changes we will see will far outpace even those we saw in the development of personal computers, smartphones and broadband networking — combined. IBM has already created a commercial quantum computer prototype, the IBM Q System One.

This quantum field is a strange one in which quantum particles here can be attached to particles there (even tens of thousands of miles away) and particles exist in both positive and negative states at the same time (superposition). In the most basic terms, one can observe or change the phase, for example, of a particle such as an electron or photon in one place, and that will cause an entangled particle far, far away to instantly change to the same phase.

In a recent Science magazine article, ruminations from the father of modern quantum discussions is invoked:

Albert Einstein colorfully dismissed quantum entanglement — the ability of separated objects to share a condition or state — as “spooky action at a distance.” Over the past few decades, however, physicists have demonstrated the reality of spooky action over ever greater distances — even from Earth to a satellite in space. But the entangled particles have typically been tiny, which makes it easier to shield their delicate quantum states from the noisy world.

And even more spooky is the speed of the entanglement; it has been measured at 10,000 times faster than the speed of light.

As spooky as that is, what is equally powerful is that the quantum bits have the ability of superpositioning. Bits as we know them in today’s binary computing have the properties of 1 and 0. So, two bits could be 10 or 01 or 11 or 00. In quantum computing, the qubits have the properties of superpositioning that allow them to hold the values of 1 and/or 0 at the same time! So just one qubit could be 1, or 0, or 1 and 0. This means they can do two calculations at once. The power of multiple qubit factors has a multiplicity effect. Ten qubits can do 1,000 calculations at once; 30 qubits can do a billion calculations at once, paving the way for computational powers never seen, and exponentially faster than ever before.

Earlier this year, IBM unveiled IBM Q System One, which is the first quantum computer to operate outside the laboratory. They plan an open five-qubit computer that will be followed by a 20-qubit scaled computer. With these will come cloud-based commercial quantum computers that will enable researchers and developers to access quantum computing for their own projects.

So what does this mean for educational technology? Qubit superpositioning means massive calculations can be conducted many thousands of times faster than the supercomputers of today.

Machine learning will ignite with the capabilities of quantum computing. Just as quantum computing is expected to revolutionize medical triage and diagnosis, in education quantum-driven algorithms will make informed decisions on student learning and deficits. Entanglement means unrivaled security at super-light speed. We don’t even know by what means entanglement communicates, so at this time it is perfectly secure. And it is perfectly fast — faster than the speed of light. These values of quantum computing are the key factors in achieving the penultimate goal in education of truly personalized learning.

There is much on the horizon in this field. So what should we do today?

First, we must keep abreast of the developments. Take the opportunity to follow the progress of the IBM Q System One and any other public cloud-based prototypes that emerge in the coming months.

Second, we should begin to identify and list those learning challenges that our in-house computers cannot adequately address. For example, big data applications and analysis of individualized student learning needs and support will be an important aspect of quantum computing.

Finally, we might begin to visualize adaptive learning models in which the power and speed of quantum computing may best serve the individualized needs of our students.

An awesome quantum future awaits us!

This article originally appeared in Inside Higher Ed’s Inside Digital Learning on May 1, 2019.