Year of the ____: 10 ways to describe 2016

Counting down the stories that defined the year

As the year draws to a close, the EAB Daily Briefing team is looking back at the stories readers read, Tweeted about, and replied to the most.

These are the 10 stories that defined higher education in 2016. Count down with us to No. 1—and tell us how you would describe 2016.

10. The year the world met the T-shaped professional.

--Julia Haskins, staff writer

When many people think of young professionals with high salaries and good job security, they think of STEM. But 2016 saw the rise of an unstoppable new type of graduate: Enter the T-shaped professional.

As employers continue to bemoan the skills gap resulting in a void of well-rounded graduates, T-shaped professionals are rising to the top. This is due in part to a renewed respect for the liberal arts and the skills that one gains studying political science, literature, and art history—you know, the fields that supposedly don't prepare students for success after graduation.

But it's these students who are having the last laugh, as they augment their liberal arts backgrounds with lucrative skills like coding to stand out in the job market. 

Why everyone's talking about T-shaped professionals

9. The year of Generation Z.

--Kristin Tyndall, editor

These days, Millennials are just as likely to be attending their 5- or 10-year reunions as sitting in classes. In 2016, higher ed began turning an eye toward the next generation: Generation Z. The term describes people born after the mid-'90s or so, although some experts place the cutoff earlier or later. 

Surveys of Gen Z show that they're collaborative, pragmatic, and—not surprisingly—tech savvy. As students, experts say we can expect them to embrace cooperative work, technological learning tools, and STEM majors. They're also less likely to see value in memorization—why memorize when you can just Google it?—and prefer assignments that ask them to think creatively or innovatively.

For all their reliance on technology, though, Gen Z consistently reports on surveys that they prefer face-to-face interaction, hands-on learning, and group study sessions to learning in a solitary or purely online setting.

3 traits to expect from Generation Z

8. The year bathrooms became battlegrounds.

--Caroline Hopkins, staff writer

In March, North Carolina's state government signed into law the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act (HB2), which required public facilities, including colleges, to segregate bathrooms by biological birth gender. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Department of Justice directed the University of North Carolina (UNC) to denounce the state law—putting the system in a very difficult position.

It was an early signal that 2016 would be a year of soul-searching and debate about how colleges can—or should—support transgender students on campus. Colleges nationwide had conversations about the transgender student experience in bathrooms, residence halls, fraternities, and the local communities beyond campus.

The issue is an important one for colleges, as a recent survey discovered that 24% of openly transgender students report being verbally, physically, or sexually harassed—and many of those who are harassed drop out of college.

How to create gender-inclusive restrooms on campus

7. The year students, colleges, and the public focused on the value of a college degree.

--Julia Haskins, staff writer

U.S. News & World Report's annual college rankings list has long been considered the gold standard for consumers evaluating institutions of higher education. A high spot on the influential rankings is certainly an honor, but what does that mean for students?

As the value of higher education is increasingly questioned, institutions have been forced to prove their worth to students who are investing a significant amount of time, money, and grit into their education. Rankings publishers are taking notice and focusing measures of success that are more meaningful to students, such as graduation rates, public service, post-graduate earnings, and long-term satisfaction.

How concerns about ROI are affecting students' enrollment decisions

In the classroom, forecasters predicted that virtual reality will be "in" but lectures will be "out." Other predictions ranged from more experiential learning to thematic pathway programs, online learning, data science, and flipped classrooms, and a number of academics weighed in on the best ways to encourage these types of innovations. 

6. The year a million higher ed employees were—almost—affected by a new labor law.

--Kristin Tyndall, editor

An update to the overtime rule within the Fair Labor Standards Act was released by the White House this year; it would have would have required all employers to pay overtime to workers who make less than $47,476 per year. An estimate based on an early draft of the rule calculated that it would have affected nearly one million employees at colleges and universities.

But in a surprise ruling—just days before the rule was set to take effect—a federal judge in Texas issued a preliminary injunction blocking the new overtime rule.

Since then, some colleges have moved ahead with pay raises while others are holding off to see how the Justice Department and Labor Department respond after reviewing the ruling. 

What colleges are doing about the blocked overtime rule

5. The year of the prior-prior year.

--Kristin Tyndall, editor

The federal government made two major changes to the FAFSA in fall 2016: allowing students to file several months earlier and to use two-year old (or "prior-prior year") tax data.

It will take a little longer for colleges to see the full effects of the new process. EAB's survey of 171 schools revealed that many institutions saw a flood of earlier applications—especially at colleges that started their recruitment marketing earlier in the year.

We might see more updates to the FAFSA in the future; financial aid reform has broad bipartisan support, probably because students leave an estimated $2.9 billion on the table by failing to complete the form.

What the early FAFSA means for students and schools

4. The year colleges began building the campus of the future.

--Caroline Hopkins, staff writer

We saw a flurry of visions for the future of campus this year—especially about the fate of libraries.

Fortunately, it looks like libraries won't go extinct; foot traffic in them actually rose 38% from 1998 to 2012. But they are going to evolve, becoming less of a book "warehouse" and more of a "learning commons." Visions for future libraries feature collaborative learning spaces, access to technology and other learning tools, and personal academic support.

3. The year Pokémon invaded campus.

--Kristin Tyndall, editor

The summer of 2016 was the summer of Pokémon. In July, Nintendo launched an augmented reality game that had students—and everyone else—wandering across campus, staring at their phones (which is perhaps not so different from a typical day).

The game helped some students become more familiar with campus, but it also caused a few safety issues.

Perhaps it's appropriate that Pokémon chose this year to invade, as mobile apps continued to play an ever-larger role in campus life. Colleges are realizing the power of social media for everything from fundraising to connecting with the community to recruiting to classroom learning. Fortunately students seem to be moving away from last year's bugaboo, Yik-Yak.

What educators can learn from Pokémon Go

2. The year college presidents resigned. A lot.

--Kristin Tyndall, editor

In 2016, higher ed began to notice an uncomfortable trend: Rates of turnover among college and university leaders are getting higher than ever. In the past, college presidents typically served 20- to 30-year terms, that's no longer the case.

Many presidents resigned over a broken relationship with the governing board; experts say managing this relationship has grown more difficult in recent years. Other common reasons for resigning included controversies related to politics, athletic programs, or campus climate.

But several experts agree that the main reason for high turnover is the rapidly changing higher education industry. College leaders are being forced to innovate, seek new business models, and communicate with internal and external stakeholders like never before.

Should your next president come from student affairs?

1. The year Donald Trump was elected president.

--Kristin Tyndall, editor

The dramatic campaign and surprising victory makes the choice for top event of 2016 an easy one. In the short term, college leaders are focusing on quelling the new wave of protests, violence, and other campus climate issues.

It's hard to know exactly what the Trump administration will mean for the future of higher education, but forecasts include budget cuts, lower international student enrollment, financial aid reform, and (finally) HEA reauthorization.

Your Trump primer: Our latest resources on the presidential transition


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