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Where Have All The Backpacks Gone?

Where have all the backpacks gone?

In my 30 years serving higher education, there have been many enduring images that have stuck with me: everything from students struggling with debt; to schools struggling with enrollment and retention; to general concerns about accessibility and outcomes.  Sometimes the “images” were represented by actual images…

The first was a tongue-in-cheek phrase about educational marketing. Called “Three and a Tree,” it came to symbolize schools’ attempts to reflect both the diversity of their student body, and the bucolic nature of campus life on the greensward. Brochure and website images were generally of a small group (three) of racially and gender diverse and smiling students sitting on the quad, under or near a deciduous tree. Occasionally, for effect, the picture included an open laptop carefully placed in the grass. Almost every school followed this formula at some point.

 

Called “Three and a Tree,” it came to symbolize schools’ attempts to reflect both the diversity of their student body, and the bucolic nature of campus life on the greensward.

 

The second has been the recognition that today’s “typical” student is anything but traditionally typical. They are occasionally (or at once) part-time, working, married with children, non-degree seeking, 25 to 35 years old, and outcomes focused.  The common phase for this new phenomenon is “Post-Traditional,” and it is very apt.  Estimates are that as many as 75% of the current student population is post-traditional. If schools are looking for more students and increased enrollment, they shouldn’t expect them to be carrying backpacks and sitting on the grass under a tree.

 

If schools are looking for more students and increased enrollment, they shouldn’t expect them to be carrying backpacks and sitting on the grass under a tree.

 

The implications for higher education are significant. The new generation of post-traditional expects (deserves) more control, more convenience, and evident outcomes. Schools are addressing these issues through any number of actions like, shorter course duration, convenience through online education, affordability options and the increased availability of certificate courses that are built on a model that looks a lot like coding academies.

Ultimately, technology and smart people will find a way to marry the needs of the schools with the evolving needs of the new breed of students.

Until that happens, it’s going to be an interesting ride.

 

 

Post author and EduForum advisor Bill Bradfield has 49 years of professional business experience, the last 28 of which were in higher education services. He was the founder and CEO of Perceptis (now Blackboard) and has deep experience in student services, online program management and student retention/student success.

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