The Future-Centric University of the Future

The Future-Centric University of the Future

To say that the workforce of 2040 will look different than it does today, might be the understatement of the century. One need not look too far into the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs 2018¹ report to see estimates about entire industries disappearing, robots and artificial intelligence emerging quickly, large cultural shifts, new job-type creation, and the need for career agility and human-only competencies. Simultaneously, there is a related change happening in higher education at a more rapid pace than it has since the industrial revolution.

There is an emerging movement of university faculty, upper-administrators, and career services staff working together to put more intentionality behind how they educate students about their future working life. It looks different than it has in past iterations. It is more thoughtful, sophisticated, multi-dimensional, and mission-focused. This comes as a result of career preparation becoming increasingly more important to students, parents, donors, and politicians. Because of this, universities are reimagining how such efforts can move from nicety to center stage, and they are realizing the incredible opportunity they have to shape society, innovation, and the future workforce.

This interest in connecting the future of work to the university mission is being stimulated by a trending problem and a trending desire. The trending problem is that colleges and universities, in many cases, are merely making career readiness help available, rather than making a commitment to actually reach and influence the career readiness of every student. Simultaneously, the trending desire is that students everywhere are now making college admissions decisions related to how well the university prepares them for their future.

The following variables have all contributed to this tidal wave to reimagine ‘career development’:

  • The rising cost of higher education
  • Unemployment fear
  • Emergent opposing models of education
  • The societal shift away from a linear life pattern of: education, then work, then retirement.

This begs for a new vision for how universities approach preparing students for their future. It has prompted a paradigm shift from simply offering career services through a small office, to an entire university infrastructure that educates all students about their future career potential.

Some universities are watching enrollments hinge on this topic, while savvy universities are elevating career leaders to the President’s cabinet, garnering multi-million-dollar donations toward the cause, and embedding employability competencies into the classroom experience, among many other initiatives.

Below are four key trends that are just starting to emerge as important, but that will, arguably be more pervasive over the next two decades as universities choose to identify as future-centric:

A Campus-Wide Vision for the Future of Work

The future-centric university will not only have a clear vision in regard to preparing students for their future, but they will showcase all the ways in which they actually prepare students. This will happen inside the classroom, through field experience, using virtual reality and artificial intelligence, and featuring not only individual stories, but big data on alumni career pathways, life success, and satisfaction. In many cases, universities, colleges and departments will be socially graded by prospective students on all of those practices. Today, university leaders have rarely taken the time to consider how their campus might formalize goals, beliefs, and strategy for preparing students for a thriving future. Yet, those who have ventured to do so have realized the incredible benefits to recruitment, retention, educational quality, and revenue. There is no doubt that effectively preparing all students for their future is a much bigger task than any campus career office can handle alone. It must and will be at the center of the university vision in the future.

Empowered Big Data on ‘Career Everything’

The future-centric university will be quite savvy in their use of big data on ‘career everything’. Alumni will regularly receive recommendations from their alma mater for continuing education courses based on educational gaps in both their transcripts and their career history to date. Prospective students and parents will be able to see career pathway data, career success data, and career satisfaction data sorted by academic departments, majors, income status, geography, and more. Academic departments will rise and fall on this data in some cases. University leaders can hardly wait any longer for a way to regularly access big data on alumni ‘career everything’, and they long to showcase a new annual story. In the future, this big data on ‘career everything’ will be in everyone’s pocket, accessible through their smart device.

Faculty and Classroom Solutions toward the Future of Work

The future-centric university will have clear incentive structures, evaluation systems, and accreditation metrics for faculty to maximize the way their courses prepare students for the future. Faculty want examples of career reflection assignments, in-class activities, field trips, syllabus learning outcomes, and other thoughtful learning activities that they can insert inside their expertise and lesson plans. Thus, online repositories will emerge with white-labeled career reflection assignments and in-class activities to help faculty insert career into the classroom. We will see virtual reality career treks to companies, virtual alumni panels in classrooms, hologram teaching assistants who actually work at companies, and curricular requirements for career planning, reflection, experience, articulation, and launching a career.

A Formalized Network of Future Champions on Campus

“The future-centric university will feature a known online and in person network of faculty, staff, alumni, employers, donors, and students who help students prepare for their future—a community of success”

This community of champions will gather regularly online or in person for training, resource sharing, best practices, and awards and recognition. It will also be expected that every university employee display ‘future fluency’ in the following:

  • how to have a career-reflection conversation
  • a common career preparation milestone system through which all students traverse prior to graduating
  • and awareness of resources, data, and trends.

This network will be one of the most often mentioned attributes among alumni about why they had a positive experience at the university, and why they believe in the value of their degree.

Call to Action

Those universities who have already begun to reimagine a system that helps all students thrive in their future career will be far ahead of those who rest on their brand name or faculty attributes. Their clear vision for a future-centric campus, their use of big data on ‘career everything’, their classroom innovation on the future of work, and their community of champions will provide renewed hope for a very unique workforce in the future.

¹ World Economic Forum, The Future of Jobs Report 2018, 2018



Jeremy Podany is the Founder and CEO of The Career Leadership Collective, an innovative solutions group that helps universities around the globe build career capacity and weave sophisticated career learning into the full university student life-cycle. Jeremy enjoyed nearly 20 years working inside higher education and has helped build six unique start-ups inside and outside of universities. His inventions and consulting solutions have systemically helped hundreds of thousands of college students with career education and mobility.  Jeremy lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, in the USA, with his wife and four children. He loves college basketball and driving his jeep thru, hiking in, or gazing at the Rocky Mountains.

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