College 2025

Adaptability, Essential Skills, Lifelong Learning & Partnerships

Lifelong Learning

Human Development, Continuous Engagement, Life Cycle

The rapid pace of discovery and a changing workforce has heightened expectations of being able to access lifelong learning opportunities. The expectations include greater opportunities for personal and professional development as people strive for growth and continuous engagement throughout the lives of its students.

USG will approach lifelong learning by working with strategic partners to access community and societal needs, responding with educational programs that address those needs and encouraging continuing education by being relevant, affordable and accessible.

For the most part, higher education in the past has been an experience that has been delimited in time. Students move from high school into their college years to pursue undergraduate and then perhaps graduate education as a prequel to moving into their career. More recently, this sequence has become much more fluid and we foresee the need for this fluidity increasing over the coming years as citizens face an increasing need for lifelong and “life-wide” learning opportunities.

Every institution of higher education aspires to create lifelong learners, but at present, the life of learning that graduates go on to is largely separate from their college institutions. Apart from alumni who return to pursue post-graduate study at the master’s and doctoral level, current graduates have little educational interaction with their alma mater throughout the rest of their lives. Workers of the future are expected to change not only employer but occupation several times during their working life. Indeed, it is likely that many will find themselves in employment areas that currently do not exist. Consequently, there will be a vibrant ongoing need for graduates at every level to refresh or redirect their skills to continuously prepare for these new employment opportunities, or life stages.


This shift will require institutions to transform from a single educational time period model to a lifelong education journey. For example, Stanford d-school has proposed an open-loop style of university study which would encompass six years of instruction spread out over in any way across a person’s life (The Future of the Degree, 2017). Regardless of the exact structure, institutions will need to create mechanisms that allow students to easily re-enter and continue their studies at various periods during their lives.

To satisfy this need for life-long learning, institutions will certainly need to explore creating new kinds of credentials that more readily conform with this educational journey, as well as ways in which the structure of current credentials can be nuanced in light of these new learning elements. In February 2018, the USG Board of Regents approved the nexus degree designation for precisely this purpose.


New credentials that are arranged along a new educational journey create the need for a new transcript system to contain this style of learning.

“The purpose of credentials is changing,” said J. Philipp Schmidt, director of learning rethinking at the innovation at the Massachusetts Institute Technology’s Media Lab. “They are moving from a sorting mechanism to a representation of a person’s competency” (Schmidt & Resnick 2016).

In the Essential Skills section, we discussed a need to create a more comprehensive record of student learning that records a more granular reflection of each student’s learning experience, and one that can be viewed from a variety of different vantage points including an employer’s. For lifelong learners, this record will convey a portfolio of learning assets that not only list courses taken but also representations of what the learner actually has gained from the experience. This open-loop style of lifelong education will call for a student record that is not only more granular, but also transcends multiple institutions, multiple degrees and multiple life-stages. This will require a new kind of life-learning record that has the portability to enable it to move through each student’s learning journey as well as the security and dependability to ensure that it is an immutable record of that learning (Raths 2016).


Just as institutions will need to be libraries of life-long learning experiences, so, too, they will need to recognize that deep and meaningful learning can happen apart from their own classrooms. While there will be the need for more seamless and dependable credit transfers, there will also be an increasing need for colleges to be able to assess, accept and transcript such learning through mechanisms such as prior learning assessments in manners that also produce portable and transferrable degree elements that satisfy degree requirements. Indeed students’ relationships with universities and colleges is becoming increasingly fluid. Today, roughly one-third of all college students involve more than one higher-education institution in the completion of their degree. This fluidity raises the impetus for policy structures that more seamlessly and more dependably enable the transfer and transcription of credits across institutions.

Just as education will need to be life-long, it will also be life-wide. Institutions will need to explore new kinds of delivery formats to make learning experiences possible across the full width of life. This will entail creating learning platforms and avenues for learning that are outside of traditional degree experiences. Some of these learning experiences may lead to industry certifications or badges that would enable a career advance or redirection, but others may simply be opportunities for those who aspire to deepen their understanding of a major interest, hobby.

Strategic Planning and Data

This report is an attempt to characterize the broad-scale trends that will shape the face of higher education in the coming decade. One of those trends is the ongoing importance for each institution to make strategic plans that will shape and position their own future in ways that most effectively meet the educational needs of their educational constituency. Part of this ongoing work will be a much greater dependence and reliance on the use and analysis of data. In the past institutional effectiveness data has largely been used in a retrospective fashion, to satisfy ongoing reporting obligation on a state and national level. In the future, while these reporting obligations will remain, there will be an increasing necessity to collect more effective and real-time data streams together with methodologies to use these data in strategic ways. Not least among the uses of data will be analysis of evidence-based educational practices. As we have already observed, there has been considerable recent work recognizing how the structuring and sequencing of education experiences can influence student success and completion and level equity disparities. Just as evidence-based medicine has transformed modern healthcare, this data-informed approach to educational practice will provide further insights to continuously increase statewide educational attainment.

In preparation for this kind of work as well as the ideas put forth in this report, each USG institution should have a “futures” task force to keep it on-task toward embracing future thinking and future talking for the institution. Such a task force can help its institution continually look at future technology, students, pedagogy and needs for the entire campus community. Institutions should create incentive structures to support and reward innovation.

Faculty and Staff

Lastly, while we have largely concentrated here on the ongoing learning-life of students, we would be remiss in not recognizing the need for career-long learning opportunities for faculty and staff. There is a growing body of research that connects deep learning and quality of instruction with increases in student outcomes. “Quite simply, students learn more and fail less when faculty members consult and utilize a large and growing body of research about active teaching methods and make connections with students” (The Future of Undergraduate Education, 2016). That said, the structure of most master’s and doctoral degrees is designed to create graduates who are well trained in the content knowledge of the discipline, but scarcely prepared for the classroom experience of conveying that content to future learners. More than this, the structure of most tenure and promotion guidelines at all styles of institution privilege research output over quality of teaching or involvement with initiatives that impact student success and completion. Already, organizations such as Transforming Post-Secondary Mathematics (TPSE) Math (Transforming Post-Secondary Mathematics, 2015) have called for a re-examination of post-graduate degree structure to more fully prepare graduates to use mathematics for more than publication. We foresee this re-examination happening across multiple disciplines. Moreover, we foresee a greater prioritization for teaching and learning, and the availability of intentional ongoing training and professional development systemwide to continuously improve the quality of instruction and the quality of the student experience inside and outside the classroom.

This training will provide knowledge that is learner-wide, as well as transcending disciplines. There is increasing research to support the impact that a student’s academic mindset and identity as a learner has on enhancing or inhibiting the likelihood for success. Future classroom teachers, advisors and student affairs professionals will be trained to employ educational interventions that enable students to think differently about their identities as students, and instead adopt more advantageous academic mindsets.

Recommendations—Lifelong Learning

USG will achieve this by:

  • Creating a new kind of life-learning record that has the portability to enable it to move through each student’s learning journey and the security and dependability to ensure that it is an immutable record of learning.
  • Creating mechanisms that allow students to easily re-enter and re-commence their studies at various periods throughout their lives.
  • Developing short-term and stackable credentials that can be transcripted and widely accepted by employers.
  • Creating policies that more seamlessly and more dependably enable the transfer and transcription of credits across institutions.
  • Encouraging the introduction of tenure and promotion guideline elements that more effectively recognize quality of teaching and initiatives that impact student success and completion.
  • Providing training and professional development to refine the quality of instruction as part of faculty career paths and graduate training.
  • Enhancing institutional abilities to more effectively collect, analyze and utilize data analysis and predictive analytics make data-informed strategic decisions.
  • Each USG institution should have a “futures” task force that engages in institutional far-future-oriented strategic planning and visioning.

Case Studies

  • Denison University: Onboard Modules
    OnBoard is an online professional skill-building platform offered through Denison University’s career center. The program encourages current students and recent graduates to take advantage of times during the year when they are not in academic classes to engage in career development mini-units which are designed to enhance their job readiness. The OnBoard Modules are a series of 6o self-paced units that build upon the liberal arts skills the students are developing in their coursework, yet these units are applied in a way that employers will find appropriate for job readiness. Some of the units available for students to take are ethics and responsibilities, the time value of money, financial budgeting, leadership styles, delivering effective presentations, inventory costing, project management methodologies, e-commerce, security, taxes and take-home pay and office and workspace etiquette.

  • Boise State University: Ten before Tenure
    Boise State University offers pre-tenure faculty a series of professional development activities designed to introduce and encourage them to use evidence-based teaching activities. Participants are encouraged to develop a network of colleagues across campus who they might consult with on their teaching processes, and to also build a teaching portfolio that can be used later in the tenure and promotion process. Participants are asked to complete 10 of professional development activities. Four of the 10 are required activities on course design, digital fluency, service learning and assessment process mapping. Participants are then encouraged to choose at least six other activities which may include attending a professional conference on pedagogy, joining a teaching-learning community or giving a teaching presentation. Participants must also develop a reflection paper in which they reflect on what they have learned about the teaching process and how they will continue to develop over time.

  • Valencia College: Essential Competencies of a Valencia Educator
    In September 2017, Valencia College adopted a set of seven essential competencies of a ‘Valencia Educator.’ These competencies were developed by their academic community of deans and faculty, and serve as the foundation for the ongoing development of teachers, counselors and librarians at the college. Over the course of an entire career, faculty members continually develop their expertise in these essential competencies with the support from Faculty Development and the Teaching/Learning Academy. This effort is meant to help them expand their professional practices, examine their ongoing development of the essential competencies and engage in continuous improvement processes that result in student learning. This work forms the foundation of all of faculty development opportunities and is an integral part of the tenure and promotion process.

  • University of System of Georgia: Nexus Degree
    In February 2018, the Board of Regents approved an innovative new degree designation called the nexus degree. A nexus degree is a 60-credit-hour degree, consisting of 42 credit hours of general education and 18 credit hours of coursework focusing on the skills and knowledge requirements of a major industry. The 18 credit hours create an apprenticeship-internship aspect that must include at least six credit hours of experiential learning and at least 12 credit hours of upper division coursework. The curriculum for a nexus degree must be planned in conjunction with a major industry sector. Using some methodology analogous to the Talent Development Playbook (see Essential Skills Case Studies), the blueprint of the curriculum is created to ensure that it provides the skills, knowledge and ability requirements of the industry. Faculty then design the learning experiences to meet those specifications.

    The nexus degree provides several new learning options to students. It is a stand-alone credential that enables a student with some college and no degree, or someone with an existing degree who wishes to redirect or enhance their resume, to quickly earn a focused technical credential. Institutions will offer the degree in this way in a concentrated boot-camp format. Students who might otherwise have sought an associate’s degree may now follow the 60-credit-hour requirement of a nexus degree curriculum. The nexus degree structure creates a new class of technical transfer associate’s degrees. Finally, a bachelor’s degree-seeking student whose curriculum already contains the core classes may include the 18 nexus credit hours in a similar way to a minor. This would allow the creation of a new class of 21st-century liberal arts degrees that would generally prepare a student for a life of work in their field, as well as including a targeted and immediate technical focus.

  • Georgia Tech Commission on Creating the Next in Education Report: Deliberate Innovation, Lifetime Education
    Georgia Tech formed the Commission on Creating the Next to envision in broad stokes the nature of higher education that will define the research university in 2040 and beyond. This report builds on a previous report from 2016, Discovering the Drivers of Change in Higher Education (Georgia Tech 2016), to outline the forces for change that will shape Georgia Tech. It also paints a new, ambitious proposal for Georgia Tech’s Commitment to Lifetime Education. The report calls for initiatives that develop “whole person” education, based around a new array of educational “products and services.” Students will be guided through these new educational structures of micro-credentials and mini-semesters by a “new era of advising,” that employs technology based advising that employs Artificial Intelligence and personalization.