During its nearly two years of preparation, deliberation, and synthesis, the Georgia Tech Commission on Creating the Next in Education devoted a surprisingly small amount of time to debating the most likely future of higher education. Despite some initial misgivings about the wisdom of making predictions, demographic and economic forecasts gathered during the six- month Discovery Phase that kicked off the Commission’s work painted a clear picture: higher education institutions of all kinds are facing a far different future from that to which they have grown accustomed.
The higher education landscape that was forged by the massive growth of colleges and universities since the 1960s is being reshaped by a generation of global students with changing needs and demands, advances in artificial intelligence and learning sciences, a profound shift in the financial underpinning of institutions, and, for public universities, the changing economics of the states that have largely supported them.
As noted in the introduction of this report, in many ways this current period is like the time in higher education when Georgia Tech was founded—an era of immense change in the world economy. But then, unlike now, the leaders of colleges and universities approached change with optimism and a growth mentality. The future was a great opportunity.
A similar approach is needed now, but it seemed to the Commission, throughout 24 months of work, that for some in higher education this is a time of risk, worry, and even retrenchment. It seemed time for Georgia Tech, by contrast, to create a vision of what a great technological research university might become.
A group of universities will need to lead higher education into this next decade and beyond. Georgia Tech should be among these leaders. By almost every measure, the Institute is significantly stronger today than it has been at any point in its history. The level of undergraduate research at Georgia Tech is unparalleled. Georgia Tech's research expenditures exceeded $800 million during FY17 alone. Georgia Tech’s undergraduate and graduate programs include some of the strongest in the world, with many ranked among the top ten in the nation. The Institute’s culture has sparked technological innovations including the development of truly useful AI agents and the well-publicized OMSCS degree that reshaped the discussion of college affordability.
So, Georgia Tech enters a period of enormous change in higher education from a position of strength. Given the complex demands and pressures facing institutions today, most have focused their strategies and planning on the near horizon. The Commission has attempted in this report to look up and out to grasp five major elements of the bigger picture of higher education.
First, the Institute needs to imagine a future in which the artificial barriers found throughout higher education disappear. Traditional conventions such as courses, semesters, and credits, even the academic calendar itself, will be reimagined. Unlike today, students will come to Georgia Tech through multiple pathways, sometimes starting earlier in life.
These students will experience undergraduate education in vastly different ways—through a mix of experiential and project-based learning, online and hybrid classes, and interactions with Georgia Tech graduates taking professional sabbaticals or serving on Personal Boards of Directors. Many of them will never become “alumni” in the traditional sense, as they may return throughout their life for additional education wherever they are in the world as part of the Georgia Tech Commitment to a Lifetime Education.
Second, this expansive way of thinking about Georgia Tech’s educational mission will require the Institute to rethink advising as a service. The current model happens in small bursts and is not always consistent. The new model will necessarily provide a set of tools that can continually guide students and alumni throughout their lifelong educational journeys. This will require investments both in virtual resources, such as new undergraduate advising systems driven by AI, and in predictive analytics, as well as face-to- face interactions made possible by a Personal Board of Directors and a Living Library for Learning (L3).
The challenge of how to engage personally and in-person with Georgia Tech’s widely distributed learners requires innovation. No longer tied to a centrally located, vertically integrated campus, economically self-sustaining Georgia Tech atriums, strategically placed to be within easy reach of learners, will become the personal touch points for experts, tutors, mentors, and an array of services yet to be invented.
Third, new educational products will be needed. Expanded age groups and those with evolving careers, as well as learners who are either not ready for traditional credentials or are no longer seeking new degrees, will demand new services and recognition for educational goals they have achieved. A new generation of stackable credentials—with yet-to- be invented platforms to create a global marketplace for the credentials—along with personalized services and communities that continue to add value to a Georgia Tech educational experience will be needed.
Fourth, whole-person education that prepares individuals for twenty-first- century workplaces will become a priority for Georgia Tech. This preparation includes so-called character traits that are highly predictive of long-term success but cannot be achieved with additional courses or minor curriculum changes. Character traits must be deliberately developed in immersive experiences.
Georgia Tech’s bedrock values and commitment to research provides many of the essential ingredients of such an environment. The experience of conducting research immerses students in cultures that practice and value traits like initiative, determination, ethical behavior, judgement, and effective communication. The deliberate intention to fuse research and educational cultures throughout Georgia Tech’s programs is an important step toward the development of the twenty-first- century skills discussed in this report.
Finally, all the ideas imagined in this report are predicated on a culture change at Georgia Tech. This change will require deliberate efforts to innovate and create an immersive environment for continuous individual educational innovation. The Commission has mapped out a systemic plan for developing this culture, beginning with strengthening and expanding the existing Educational Innovation Ecosystem and borrowing from the research culture of innovation.
The creation of an Academic Master Plan ties long-range Institute planning to academic goals and ensures that university governance is aligned with the needs of educational innovation. Finally, there are techniques for promoting innovation at the level of the individual faculty member, including the use of new ways of thinking about educational change, to provide a useful framework for identifying high-impact projects and initiatives.
Access to higher education and scholarly research has long been the lever universities have pulled to promote prestige. In higher education, it is difficult, if not impossible, to stray far from the pack and think differently about how to recruit and enroll students and how to provide them with an immersive educational environment, all while remaining on the cutting edge of the next great research discoveries.
However, like the Georgia Tech of 1885, the forces reshaping the increasingly automated and diverse world of the current industrial revolution require bold thinking by the Georgia Tech of today. As Isaac Hopkins foresaw, the complex world needs skilled individuals who can think. Georgia Tech’s pledge is to apply its innovative capacity to educate those individuals for a lifetime.