5.5 Things Every Designer Should Know About: The Future of Higher Education with Bryan Alexander — DT101 E97


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This episode of the Design Thinking 101 podcast is 5.5 Things Every Designer Should Know About: the Future of Higher Education. Our guest today is Bryan Alexander. Bryan is a senior scholar at Georgetown University and runs a consultancy focused on the future of higher education.

Listen to learn about:

  • The current state of higher education
  • Student loan debt and the financial structure of universities and colleges
  • The role of tech and digital platforms in higher ed
  • The effects of the lack of population growth and increased longevity on higher education and society
  • The connection between higher education and the climate crisis
  • How science fiction can help us think about the future

Our Guest

Bryan Alexander is an award–winning, internationally known futurist, researcher, writer, speaker, consultant, and teacher, working in the field of higher education’s future.

He completed his English language and literature PhD at the University of Michigan in 1997, with a dissertation on doppelgangers in Romantic-era fiction and poetry. Then Bryan taught literature, writing, multimedia, and information technology studies at Centenary College of Louisiana. There he also pioneered multi-campus interdisciplinary classes, while organizing an information literacy initiative.

From 2002 to 2014, Bryan worked with the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE), a non-profit working to help small colleges and universities best integrate digital technologies. With NITLE he held several roles, including co-director of a regional education and technology center, director of emerging technologies, and senior fellow. Over those years Bryan helped develop and support the nonprofit, grew peer networks, consulted, and conducted a sustained research agenda. In 2013, Bryan launched a business, Bryan Alexander Consulting, LLC. Through BAC he consults throughout higher education in the United States and abroad.

Bryan speaks widely and publishes frequently, with articles appearing in venues including The Atlantic Monthly, Inside Higher Ed. He has been interviewed by and featured in the Washington Post, MSNBC, The Wall Street Journal, US News and World Report, National Public Radio (2017, 2020, 2020, 2020, 2020), the Chronicle of Higher Education (2016, 2020), the Atlantic Monthly, Reuters, Times Higher Education, the National Association of College and University Business Officers, Pew Research, Campus Technology, The Hustle, Minnesota Public Radio, USA Today, and the Connected Learning Alliance.

He recently published Academia Next: The Futures of Higher Education for Johns Hopkins University Press (January 2020), which won an Association of Professional Futurists award. His next book, Universities on Fire: Higher Education in the Age of Climate Crisis, is forthcoming from Johns Hopkins. His two other recent books are Gearing Up For Learning Beyond K-12 and The New Digital Storytelling (second edition).

Bryan is currently a senior scholar at Georgetown University and teaches graduate seminars in their Learning, Design, and Technology program.

Show Highlights

[01:50] Bryan kicks things off by talking about the state of higher education financing.

[03:32] How do we achieve the promise of higher education?

[04:10] The idea of debt forgiveness.

[04:50] The varying experiences of college students in terms of the financial investment in a degree.

[06:45] Issues with the “sticker price” of tuition.

[07:20] The real price of tuition.

[09:11] The financialization of higher education.

[11:25] The digitalization of higher education.

[12:02] How the pandemic accelerated the use of digital technology in higher education.

[13:10] The contribution of higher education to digital, online content.

[14:27] The need for more support for faculty using digital platforms.

[15:02] Campus enrollment vs online enrollment.

[15:59] Bryan considers the future of higher education and digital tech.

[17:47] Backlash against the online learning experience.

[20:30] The demographic transition re-shaping the world.

[24:17] The increasing healthcare needs of an aging population.

[25:19] Population shrink and what it means for higher education.

[29:18] The enrollment challenge.

[30:41] College enrollment peaked in 2012.

[33:04] Lack of enrollment contributes to the financial precariousness of higher ed.

[34:46] Higher education is more concerned than ever before about students as people, and devoting resources to helping improve their health and wellbeing.

[36:56] The climate crisis and higher education.

[37:25] The future evolution of physical campuses.

[41:41] The possibility of addressing the climate crisis in higher education.

[44:34] Science fiction and thinking about the future.

[50:28] The Future Trends Forum.


Bryan on Twitter

Bryan on LinkedIn

Bryan on Medium

Bryan’s website

The Future of Education Observatory

The Future Trends Forum

Book Recommendations

The Population Bomb, by Paul Ehrlich and David Brower

Rainbow’s End, by Vernor Vinge

The Highest Frontier, by Joan Slonczewski

The Actual Star, by Monica Byrne

Academia Next: The Futures of Higher Education, by Bryan Alexander

The New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media, by Bryan Alexander

Gearing Up for Learning Beyond K-12: Preparing Students and Schools for Modern Higher Education (Solutions) (Off-Campus and Blended Methods of Engaging in Advanced Learning), by Bryan Alexander

Other Design Thinking 101 Episodes You Might Like

Redesigning a Design School + Designing Higher Ed with Jason Schupbach — DT101 E30

Learning Design with Yianna Vovides — DT101 E58

Design + Afrofuturism + Doomsday Optimism with Raja Schaar — DT101 E91