Written by Joanna Hughes

If you're like most students, you are probably in the thick of the semester right now with little opportunity to think of anything else but your studies. But why not take a break to consider how far education has come -- and how much better you off for it? Read on for a roundup of five ways higher education has changed over the past 50 years and what that these changes may mean for you as a student.

1. Technology has changed the way you are learning.

The education system has been around for hundreds of years with roots dating back millennia. And while it has changed significantly over the centuries, no other development has altered the face of higher education as much as technology.

“The first real change for higher ed in over 1,000 years came as a result of the internet boom. For the first time, content could be instantly distributed to mass audiences in disparate geographic locations. Further, the institution no longer controlled the content as students could freely find information through a variety of sources including MOOCs, online journals, blogs, YouTube and search engines….The internet changed higher ed because it removed the institution’s monopoly on content, and it broke down the geographic barrier to competition,” explains The Edvocate.

2. You are part of a more diverse and international community.

Between internationalization and increased understanding of the benefits of student and faculty mobility, today’s college campuses are more diverse than ever before. And while you may not realize it, this has many advantages for you as a student.

Campus Answers highlighted five benefits you reap from being part of a more diverse campus community, including an enriched educational experience; improved communication and thought processing skills; challenged predisposed stereotypes; witnessing more inclusive leadership styles; and better preparation for the workplace.

Meanwhile, a seminal study on diversity on campus concluded that diversity boosts learning outcomes across a variety of measures for everyone,  including “intellectual engagement, self-motivation, citizenship and cultural engagement, and academic skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, and writing” thereby making them better students, thinkers and people.

3. You have many more study options.

As colleges have grown and expanded their offerings, they have “rarely culled any of the courses that already existed. Religion expanded to include philosophy. Then the social sciences, such as economics and sociology, were added,” explains Jeffrey J. Selingo. From classes like “Politicizing Beyoncé” and “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus” to majors like theme park engineering and turfgrass science, you have more choices than ever before when it comes choosing what to study.

Of course, this doesn’t mean college is a free-for-all. Today’s employers are looking for graduates with 21st-century skills. To that end, many universities are also taking opportunities for learning out of the classroom and into the field in the form of internships and work options.

4. If you are a non-traditional student, you are now the norm.

While many people think of colleges and universities as the domain of 18 to 23-year-olds, the real picture is actually a very different one.

William Clohan, former undersecretary of education and policy advisor to the U.S. House of Representatives, said,  “We call students over twenty-five who are working full-time non-traditional students because when they first entered education research and policy discussions, they differed from the traditional undergraduate student. Today, these ‘non-traditional' students are the majority of the student population in higher education. More than sixty percent of students enrolled are now over twenty-five and more than sixty percent of students are now working full-time while pursuing their education.”

So f you did not go straight to college from high school, and/or if you are in a different phase of life with other obligations, such as work or family, there’s not only a place for you on campus, but you are making a welcome contribution through your differences. (See #2.)

5. You’re paying much more.

The cost of higher education has skyrocketed. According to economics professor Richard Vedder, writing in Forbes, the annual tuition fee for college in 1965 was $450. That comes to just $3,400 today when adjusted for inflation. The difference to today's tuition rates is huge.  

That said, most employers agree that a college education is priceless. So while student loan debt is indeed a problematic reality, the solution is not foregoing a degree. Rather, everything from repayment programs to money-saving apps can help trim costs without sacrificing your future job prospects.

One of the most exciting things about thinking about how far higher education has come over the past half-century is considering the many more changes that lie ahead. Here’s a closer look at what the future may hold -- from technology to student loans.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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