The pandemic has accelerated the unbundling of higher education and opened up innovative approaches for universities and technology providers to find new, more effective ways to reach learners.
Institutions that can break apart the traditional four-year bundled college experience – in which one fee pays for everything from coursework to housing, libraries and sports – and rethink a customised approach will thrive in the new paradigm.
For over a decade, traditional institutions in the United States and other developed higher education markets have faced declining enrolment and rapidly increasing costs. These shifts began to call into question the long-term viability of status quo business models, such as charging premiums for four-year degrees and depending on alumni fundraising.
In emerging markets, enrolment has generally held steadier, but even before the pandemic there were indications that the traditional four-year model was not sufficient to meet varied student and labour force needs.
For instance, enrolment in Colombian universities grew between 2010 and 2015 at an average of 8% per year. For the next three years, numbers levelled off. From 2018 to 2019 student enrolment declined from 54% to 52%, which only got worse during COVID-19.
The pandemic forced a reassessment by all higher education institutions, regardless of where they operated. Universities that had already incorporated digital learning were better able to meet demand, but even they had to make adjustments to absorb students learning under changed conditions.
Classes were conducted over the internet, students logged on from their bedrooms, and administrators had to utilise new software to collaborate. Two years into COVID, innovation around what learning should look like continues to expand.