Don’t Be a One-Size-Fits-None Institution
Different students attend higher education for different reasons. Understanding a student’s “Job to be Done”— the reason people “hire” products or services in a given situation—in partaking in postsecondary education is critical to helping students stay on track for graduation.
The reason why is if a college doesn’t understand what a student is trying to accomplish, then it doesn’t know what experiences it needs to provide during the application process through graduation. And if it doesn’t understand what these necessary experiences are, then it is likely to integrate the elements of its enterprise in ways that are irrelevant to what students are trying to accomplish.
One of the core reasons many students struggle at certain colleges and universities is that these institutions have historically tried to cater to lots of people with lots of different jobs in an effort to be all things to all people. As a result, they aren’t structured in a way that is optimized for any particular Job and often become a “one-size-fits-none” institution.
Once a college understands the Job that its students are trying to do, it can organize around the experiences necessary to get that Job done by stitching together the right resources in the right way. This extends from creating academic programs tailored to students’ Jobs to optimizing the learning experiences within those academic programs, and from building the proper physical spaces to optimizing a student’s social supports.
Tools are emerging to help colleges affordably create these experiences. Colleges can use Intellus Learning to help faculty members choose content that is optimized for each student. Noodle Partners can help schools customize their online offerings. Emerging learning relationship management systems like Fidelis Education and Motivis can surround students with mentors and coaches to support them through college and into their careers. And Civitas Learning harnesses data to help colleges provide the right supports at the right time for the right student.
It’s early in this revolution, but understanding the Job is increasingly allowing institutions to use a range of tools to optimize a student’s experience and realize success.
Michael B. Horn is co-founder of and a distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute. He is an advisor to Intellus Learning and serves on the board of directors of Fidelis Education.
Affordable Books and Innovative First-Year Programs
Founded in rural Appalachia in 1856, Mars Hill University was established to provide an education to those who would otherwise have had little opportunity for one. Today, MHU continues to serve at-risk populations. More than half of its incoming students self-identify as first-generation, more than half are Pell-eligible, and more than half have SAT or ACT scores below published “college readiness” benchmarks.
To continue to serve these students, Mars Hill needed to grow. It began to do so on the front end, with improved admission and financial aid packaging processes leading to a 30 percent increase in residential students in just four years. Entering the second stage of its growth plan, the university has shifted its focus from recruitment to retention, with the goal of increasing its first-time full-time student persistence rate 10 percent by 2017. To achieve this, Mars Hill has invested in two key programs.
First, Mars Hill has partnered with Silicon Valley technology services company Rafter to ensure all students have access to textbooks and ancillaries on day one. Previously, a significant portion of new students arrived without the resources to purchase books and access codes. MHU faculty identified this as the primary barrier to first-year students’ success. Using Rafter360, Mars Hill now provides all required materials at no additional cost to students.
Second, funds redirected from an institutional work-study program have been used to develop an experimental “First Year Connections” initiative. Rather than work on-campus jobs for minimum wage, students in the program participate in special first-year seminar courses and receive grants tied to events designed to help them succeed, including intrusive advising, peer mentoring, financial literacy programming, career planning, service-learning activities, and study skills development.
Based on preliminary data and initial feedback, Mars Hill expects to achieve its retention goal a year ahead of schedule.
Jason Pierce currently serves as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Information Services and is the university’s Chief Information Officer.