Business Education in the U.S.A.: Trends and Imperatives in Post-COVID Environment
Technological and socio-economic changes exert strong impacts and impact U.S. higher education (HE). The advent of COVID has profoundly affected American HE industry. The paper looks at trends and dynamics in HE in qualitative exploratory analysis. (1) Government continues to play a major role as source of funding for public universities and colleges: the state and federal government provide some 40% of total funding each. Private HE institutions financially depend on their tuition, auxiliary enterprises, donations, endowments. (2) High tuition keep rising hampering demand for HE. This is exacerbated by massive student loan debt. (3) Stagnant demographics flatten student enrollment impeding HE finances and funding. (4) American HE institutions increasingly rely on recruiting international students who pay full tuition. (5) Perpetual tuition increases, amplified by financial hardships from COVID further hurdle students. Steep tuition and price inflation call into question sustainability of HE for students at large. (6) Recent innovative start-ups provide online courses, certificate, and other educational and re/upskilling programs. This generates interest from students and societal stakeholders. These innovative, dynamic, and user-friendly platforms challenge curriculum and pedagogies offered by traditional brick and mortar HE. Awarding college diplomas as HE’s ultimate output is being challenged by the “skills, not schools” paradigm. The future of work implies flexibility in business models, job descriptions, and changing career paths. On the contrary, a traditionally “protected” industry of HE is reliant on tenure, silo academic fields, stable academic careers, and educational curriculums grounded in stationary menu of academic disciplines and predefined degrees sequenced in a linear formation. Skill development gains prominence under the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) imperative. Ultimately, learning the 21st-century skills may mean a shift from acquiring knowledge of “how-to-do” through rote learning to learning to how to learn. This is particularly important for business education, which is interdisciplinary, holistic, and grounded in systemic interdependency rather than separate domains of academic disciplines. Examining the drivers and dynamics of HE means maintaining relevance to the real business world itself and accounting for its trends. (1) New nimble SMEs play vital roles in America. SMEs are the backbone of the U.S. economy and are key contributors to jobs and economic growth. HE should become more relevant to SMEs in contrast to current business course offerings and textbooks gravitating toward large corporations. In part, this shift can be achieved through experiential learning and open educational resources that are economically affordable – and accessible post-graduation. (2) Shifting from top-down classroom lecturing and teacher-centered knowledge dissemination model to developing vital skills under the learner-centered pedagogy is another imperative. Transitioning from disbursing knowledge toward skill development should be enhanced by pivoting from expensive stationary textbooks to instructional materials, learning, and analytical tools in real time that are complimentary or inexpensive, and publicly accessible. (3) Traditional business HE is facing competition from alternative educational platforms such as YouTube, LinkedIn Learning, Khan Academy, and corporate universities. They pose attractive alternatives challenging traditional HE. This challenge has been amplified by COVID that negatively affected HE. (4) Proliferation of virtual platforms, “gig” economy, and flexible formats in real business world raises the issue of academic institutions’ relevance and viability grounded in costly and inflexible “brick and mortar” business models and pedagogies. (5) American HE is facing higher societal requirements, expectations and new imperatives from its key stakeholders. (6) In all, the relevance and customer value proposition that colleges and universities offer to their stakeholders in the increasingly competitive market landscape of HE is facing disruption. To sustain and advance its role in business education academia must ensure its relevance and leadership by being ahead of changes taking place in real business world at best or at least keeping up with these changes and not insulating itself in centuries-long traditions, however attractive in the retrospect.