Students at Santa Monica College's graduation in June of this year. (File photo)

Students at Santa Monica College’s graduation in June of this year. (File photo)

For many of us, the New Year brings a desire to look forward with a clear vision and a positive outlook, which is exactly what our higher education system needs. The U.S. will continue to experience dramatic shifts in the way education is accessed in the coming year. With a national unemployment rate of 7.7 percent, budget pressures on higher education funding from the government and student loan debt at an all-time high, our country is ready for a post-secondary education revolution.
As states continue to slash college budgets causing tuition fees to rise, students face more competitive college admissions and a higher tab to attend four-year institutions. This is a problem for our nation, let alone our economy, which is why we’re going to see accelerated changes in how students access information to learn new skills, training programs and higher education in 2013.
The U.S. Department of Education estimates the average debt for a college student is $23,186. While most students who graduate earn $20,000 more in salary per year than students without a degree, the college dropout rate ranges from 35-78 percent depending on the type of four-year institution a student attends, according to a 2011 report from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Next year, students will tap into education technology and seek online support more so than ever before; they will begin to bridge the skills gap between their education and available jobs through community colleges and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs); and schools will begin to mine their students’ academic data to help decrease dropout rates at their institutions.
This rise in education technology will be more prominent given the need to fill the estimated 3 million vacant jobs available today that require educated employees. Ed tech is now a multi-billion dollar industry serving students of any age, whether they are using tablets in the classroom, searching for education options online or taking MOOCs with companies like Coursera or Udacity for free.
While the future and benefits of MOOCs are unknown, their growth is undeniable; 2013 will be a defining year for their role in higher education. In addition, new apps, websites and MOONs (Massive Open Online Networks) will greatly impact how students learn and how teachers connect with them by using academic social networking services like GoingOn.com and Epernicus.com.
For those who aren’t interested in online education, community colleges are rapidly becoming the popular choice for high school graduates and adult students, alike. “Community colleges and/or vocational schools are better than elite universities,” said Dr. Adrian McIntyre, a cultural anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley in an interview with CampusExplorer.com.
With many course offerings, a less intimidating academic environment for students who are unsure of what they want to pursue professionally and a lower cost for tuition, community colleges allow students to ease into their academic journey and find a career path that suits them, instead of paying the high cost of a traditional college. Plus, 25 percent of college students are now over 30 years old. These adult learners need flexibility for jobs and families, which community colleges can provide.
However, this is not to say four-year colleges will be obsolete, in fact, community colleges will simply help accommodate and direct students to institutions that fit their education and career goals. For some, a two-year program will lead to advanced degrees at traditional colleges. For others, vocational training programs will be a better choice.
At Campus Explorer.com, we believe college is going to be more rewarding if you know what you want out of it. And, according to a Pew Research Center study in 2011, 86 percent of college graduates said, “College has been a good investment for them personally.” However, American students transfer schools at a rate of 60 percent, which can be costly and delay graduation.
As students become more proactive about what they want to learn through technology and more affordable higher education options, colleges are also looking to leverage data about their students to help them stay on track.
At schools like Arizona State University and University of Florida, eAdvising programs monitor a student’s academic progress in order to graduate on time (and save money on unnecessary tuition costs). While some find these programs to be controversial because they limit the variety of courses a student can take, others believe they will help the schools guide students toward a degree more efficiently and reduce transfers and dropouts.
So why do students drop out? The 2011 “Pathways to Prosperity” study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education shows that students drop out because they are not being prepared for the rigors of academic work; inability to cope with the competing demands of study, family and jobs; and cost. Schools like A.S.U. hope that eAdvising will assist with the balance of academic rigor and mediate cost.
From the prevalence of online technologies and other digital resources, to the appeal of community colleges, 2013 will be an exciting year full of fresh changes for students and academic faculty. Education is an industry that is ripe for change right now. In 2013 we will begin to see how higher education moves to satisfy the changing needs our nation. Disruption is inevitable.

Jerry Slavonia is founder and CEO of Campus Explorer, which provides online tools for those interested in continuing their education. Learn more at www.campusexplorer.com/