The Changing Face of Higher Education and More

The Changing Face of Higher Education and More

As an association, UPCEA has been an advocate for what we’ve called the “The New Face of Higher Education.” This new face of higher education reflects the changing demographics of students pursuing post secondary education. Non-traditional students have now become the mainstream at more than 50 percent of undergraduates at public 4 year colleges/universities and 50 percent of undergraduates at private nonprofit colleges.

AND, given the recent announcement from the Carnegie Foundation we are also seeing a new face in terms of higher education institutions. ( The updated Carnegie Classification list reveals at least three very interesting items, dare I say trends:
-an increase in the number of for-profit institutions
-shift towards greater pre-professional focus
-a growth (some have described as significant) in community colleges offering four year degrees

I would suggest that all three of these changes can be linked back to the changing demographics and the increase in non-traditional students. Given this increase, clearly there is a need for more programming and it appears that new for-profits feel that they can step into this market space and not only meet a need but also turn a profit. We also know that most non-traditional students are very focused on completing programs that pertain either to their existing position and/or allow for upward mobility within or beyond their current position. We also know that given the current state of the economy, some students are simply trying to keep their current jobs through professional development. Finally, most non-traditional students are looking for flexible programs that are either online or close to home. I think this is one of several factors that has impacted the growth in four year degree programs at community colleges.

This leads me to one conclusion and that is the role of UPCEA and the role of our units has become that much more important — central not only to our institutions but to the educational and economic health of our communities and states.

At the recent UPCEA Career & Economic Development Forum, two of our key note speakers provided insights into thinking about these movements or trends.
Jacqueline Smith, the Director of Social Embeddedness in the Office of University Initiatives (UI) at Arizona State University (by the way, she gets the award for the coolest job title ever!), shared with us the efforts of her President, Michael Crow, to organize ASU from a discipline-based institution to a problem-based institution. For more info see I think there is much to be learned from this when it comes to designing our curriculum for certificates and degree programs. We are in a unique position as professional and continuing education units because we have the opportunity to bridge the gap between disciplines, bridge the gap between higher education and the needs of business and industry, and then have the programming expertise to help design problem-based courses and degree programs addressing challenges facing our society.

One of my ongoing concerns, and I believe it is shared by others, is that when it comes to workforce development, the inclusion of four-year institutions is often an afterthought by our states and by those working on national policy. I strongly believe that the strongest workforce development plan is to create a partnership/linkage between K-12 to two-year colleges to four-year colleges with business and industry linked throughout. Another keynote at the UPCEA Career & Economic Development Forum was offered by Eric A. Roe, chemical engineer responsible for a $2.9 million Community Based Jobs Training Initiative grant to strengthen Engineering Technology and Advanced Manufacturing training and education programs. Eric provided information about one of the few programs/models which incentivizes cooperation. In the model, the state provides incentives to all partners, community colleges, universities, and business and industry to partner in addressing a workforce need. From my standpoint this is exactly what is missing in our state and national workforce efforts.

Yes, the face of higher education is changing both in terms of our students and the types of institutions that are emerging. At the end of the day, all I see is OPPORTUNITY and many more reasons why we need to continue to be advocates for access, affordability, and accountability.

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3 Responses to The Changing Face of Higher Education and More

  1. Wayne Smutz says:


    I’m just catching up with your “forays”. Good piece above. Interesting NY Times op ed too. You’re right on target in my opinion. We have an opportunity to provide incredible leadership to our institutions at this point in time. I’m amazed at how uninformed many in the academy are about everything going on around them. We’re not. And, we can be a big part of a new solution.

    I’m currently co-chairing a new University Task Force at Penn State that we got the Provost to appoint. It’s purpose is to come up with three new degree completion programs for adults. Now that may not sound ground breaking to most, but at Penn State—–get out land movers. We don’t have any real degree completion programs! We’ve also totally re-organized, I’m trying to build a bridge to the campuses with World Campus, we’ve launched a new statewide Video Learning Network, etc. I also think we can be a force in pushing for change within what is being taught. I certainly plan to bring the idea to the degree completion Task Force that traditional disciplinary degrees are not what adults need—or employers. Let’s see how I do. In any case, keep up the forays!

    • shaeffjm says:

      Thanks Wayne, great to hear from you. I loved your note about the development of new degree completion programs at Penn State and the fact you’ve been asked to lead the effort. First, you are best mind that PSU has on this issue so it is very smart to name you as the leader and second, my next blog post will be about how our units are the “disruptive technology” on our campus and having you in the lead as the main disruptor seems right on target. Take care. jim

  2. click says:

    As soon as I originally left a comment I clicked on the Notify me when new comments are added checkbox and currently every time a remark is added I get 4 messages with the exact same comment.

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