5 public opinions about the state of higher education

Most Americans support a racially and ethnically diverse student body on college campuses, but they overwhelmingly do not support using race as a factor in college admissions, according to a WGBH News national poll on perceptions of higher education.

The national poll looks at the impact colleges and universities have on society, perceptions of public and private universities, and the role of higher education in society and the value of a college education, among other issues.

Overall, more than 77 percent of those surveyed say they believe colleges and universities have a positive impact on society, and 81 percent believe colleges and universities have a positive impact on the local community.

While 76 percent have a favorable opinion of public higher education, only 59 percent shared that opinion when asked about private colleges and universities.


Innovators worth watching: Western Governors University

Now in its third decade, Western Governors University (WGU) has students in every U.S. state and has over 100,000 enrolled students—a 230-percent increase since 2011. This growth is particularly notable given that overall higher education enrollment has declined by over a million students since 2011—a decline concentrated in the adult learner population.

WGU is growing quickly, but is it disruptive? Six questions for identifying disruption—as well as a new paper—help us analyze WGU’s disruptive potential.

1. Does it target people whose only alternative is to buy nothing at all (nonconsumers) or who are overserved by existing offerings in the market?

Yes. In the mid-1990s, governors of 19 states across the western United States founded WGU as a way to bring accessible college education to rural populations, especially working adults. Today, WGU students aren’t typical college attendees: The average WGU student is 37 years old, 74 percent are working full time, and 40 percent are first-generation college attendees.

2. Is the offering not as good as existing offerings as judged by historical measures of performance?

Yes. Traditional colleges compete on academic prestige. WGU’s programs are entirely online and the school doesn’t offer the traditional campus facilities and experiences. The school eschews the research focus of more prestigious universities, and President Pulsipher notes that WGU is not an attractive destination for faculty who wish to be a ‘sage on a stage.’ Instead, WGU’s faculty model optimizes for flexibility, and the supports needed by working adults.


The explosive growth of collegiate eSports, part 2

Gaming, once thought of as only a recreational activity, is becoming one of the most influential and rapidly growing industries with the introduction of eSports, which is expected to grow to $1.4 billion by 2020.

As an early adopter, SUNY Canton was one of the first schools to embrace that growth by launching a competitive eSports athletic program and joining the National Association of Collegiate Esports. But SUNY Canton didn’t stop there. As we were developing the eSports program from an athletics perspective, we also explored how eSports could connect online students with campus life. With more than 25 percent of our students enrolled online, eSports offers opportunities for this population to become student athletes and deepen their connection to the college community.

Student interest is matched by industry predictions. Across the world, eSports is growing at a rate of 40 percent a year. It is expected to top $1.5 billion dollars (U.S.) in revenue by 2020 with a global audience of more than 580 million. Employment of gaming software developers, graphic designers, virtual reality engineers, multimedia artists, and animators is projected to grow six percent from 2014 to 2024, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job opportunities include sport sales, marketing, public relations, facilities operations, event and tournament management, announcers, coaches, etc.

In part one of this series, my colleague Randy Sieminski shared how SUNY Canton’s eSports athletic program came to fruition. In part two, I’ll cover how eSports grew beyond the athletic department and blossomed into an academic program that’s giving our students a platform to grow their careers in the emerging gaming industry.

New majors to support a new industry
With an already thriving student body that enjoyed gaming in their free time and as a school rooted in STEM education, SUNY Canton’s leadership realized that eSports could be an opportunity to reach and engage students not only on the “field,” but also in the classroom and beyond.

When we first introduced eSports athletic teams on campus, we focused on teaching the skillsets student athletes normally gain on the field: community, team building, and leadership. As we watched the market grow and flourish, we realized students also need to understand the business aspect of eSports.

Recognizing that we need to prepare students for the economic and professional opportunities generated by the sport of competitive gaming, SUNY Canton recently drafted a proposal for a new eSports Management degree. The degree focuses on the business side of this fast-growing industry. We also offer complementary and related degrees in Sports Management, Technological Communication, Cybersecurity, and Graphic and Multimedia Design to provide students with additional career paths to the gaming industry. Through these courses, we are teaching students about the business side of what goes in to managing tournaments and competitive play, the virtual and technology side of gaming, and the design that goes into making the beautiful games we play.


Have you hired a CHRO?

As the competition for top-notch faculty increases, human resource (HR) departments in higher education are experiencing a key transformation—and this shift has important implications for colleges and universities.

Traditionally, campus HR departments have largely been “personnel shops,” says John Thornburgh, a senior partner at the executive search firm Witt/Kieffer. In other words, they have focused mainly on the basics of administration, compliance, developing and enforcing rules and regulations, and other tactical elements of managing employees.

However, today’s campus HR departments are becoming much more strategic in their approach by focusing on how they can recruit, attract, develop, and retain the best employees for their institutions. This shift reflects the changes that have occurred in the private sector, Thornburgh notes, where companies are investing heavily in the tools and staff needed to hire and retain top talent.

“The chief human resource officer role is being looked at as a much more strategic leadership position than it has been in the past,” he says. “What we’re seeing now is the need for an HR leader who is transformative in developing and driving a high-performing employee culture.”

This change affects the skills that chief human resource officers need to be successful. According to Thornburgh, here are three key attributes that college and university leaders should look for in a CHRO:

A vision for how to make the institution a distinctive place to teach or work.
A big part of the CHRO role is to identify what makes an institution stand out and how to “sell” the organization when recruiting employees. “You want to be able to signal to faculty that they’re working and teaching in a unique place that has a clear mission and a special character,” Thornburgh says.

This is an important aspect of the job, he says, because if recruiting is simply reduced to compensation, then the “haves” would be draining faculty and research talent from the “have-nots”—which would be “detrimental” to higher education.


OER planning 101

Open educational resources (OER) are gaining momentum among stakeholders in higher education. From students to faculty to administrators, the benefits of OER can help offset the rising costs of traditional textbooks.

For over a decade, the pioneers of OER consisted of a group of global trailblazers dedicated to the cause of open access and cost reduction for students. Oftentimes, figuring out the logistics and lessons learned along the trail, they set the stage for broader awareness of OER.

In addition to the pioneers, there has been a myriad of both legislative and non-legislative actions that have brought OER to the attention of many higher-ed administrators and practitioners. And while OER may appear to be a “quick fix” for textbook costs, the perception that OER can be done for free is not necessarily the case, not to mention getting started is easier said than done. There are steps and considerations that can make OER conversion a project worth pursuing.

Let’s get started.

Institutional readiness
The following considerations will assist in the planning and prep work to be done prior to launching OER. Building a good base for OER will help prevent missteps in the next stages.

  • Culture: Developing an OER culture is important to ensure support and buy-in from the institutional community. From the executive level, incorporating OER into strategic planning is an appropriate place to start. A survey to faculty and staff is a good method for assessing knowledge about OER and will also help with determining training needs. Developing workshops around lessons learned from similar institutions or strategic partners can be effective in motivating interest about OER.
  • Systems: OER content will typically have a longer shelf life than a traditional textbook or e-text. You should develop systems of storage and retrieval with appropriate permissions and access. This may include a learning management system, your school’s online bookstore, your course materials management and delivery partner, or a centrally located database or storage file system that can be easily uploaded into online courses or accessed for ground courses. You should also create a list of permissible file types to provide to curators of OER.
  • Legal: Intellectual property rights—specifically copyright policies related to OER—should be created or revised to minimize legal actions.
  • Cost: One of the perceived benefits of OER is cost savings. From the content perspective, OER is free. But there are procurement and maintenance costs to consider. It’s a good idea to develop a methodology or framework to track time and resources so you can accurately calculate the cost savings of OER.

Here’s how your campus can tap into extended reality

Extended reality has enormous implications for higher education, but the challenge lies in ensuring these technologies are both evenly distributed and used appropriately for teaching and learning.

Extended reality–including augmented and virtual reality–is becoming more widespread, offering not only high-end expensive options, but increasingly affordable and accessible options via smartphones. And as extended reality becomes more accessible, its ability to impact teaching and learning becomes more real.

EDUCAUSE and HP collaborated on the Campus of the Future: 3D Technologies in Academe project, which focuses on a subset of extended-reality technologies, namely virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D scanning, and 3D printing. The project involves 11 institutions and is intended to identify innovative ways these 3D technologies are used, how they are impacting learning, and what lessons can be extrapolated for future use.

The project found that 3D technologies can support a number of learning goals across many disciplines. In particular, two findings stand out:
1. 3D technologies enable active and experiential learning
2. 3D technologies promote shared experiences and collaboration

HP provided the hardware and EDUCAUSE led the research and evaluations. Participating institutions already had 3D technology initiatives and were not intended to be representative of the state of higher ed. Those schools that did participate were expected to use the technology to explore how 3D technologies fit into the classroom and research projects, and how the technologies were used by both students and faculty.


Campus faculty: Give us more classroom tech

Campus digital learning leaders–those who supervise online education or instructional technology–overwhelmingly support more technology use in classrooms.

Data from various research projects shows 97 percent of digital learning leaders have high support for more ed-tech on campus. Sixty-two percent of faculty have high support more classroom ed-tech, with 30 percent displaying medium support.

The support for more campus ed-tech has two clearly-defined motivators: 80 percent of digital learning leaders and 68 percent of faculty say they like to experiment with new teaching methods or tools, while 85 percent of digital learning leaders and 66 percent of faculty say they have succeeded with ed tech before.

While early adopters lead the way for more widespread campus tech adoption, just 35 percent of faculty identify themselves as early adopters, and only 11 percent say their institution rewards early adopters. Seventy-one percent of digital learning leaders say they are early tech adopters.


Get on board with data integration

The modern, public university is arguably facing more strain than ever before—both from outside and inside its walls. Marked by new competitors and declining funding, the state of today’s higher-ed marketplace has driven more public universities to turn to technology as a holy grail for readying them to compete.

Universities are complex systems, comprised of thousands of departments, specialty schools, and student groups. They’re facing competition from for-profit institutions and tech startups, and the state funding for public universities is declining year over year.

A cross-sectional view of several macro-level trends in higher ed paints a clear picture on why this complexity is significant, and how technology will be a defining factor in addressing it.

More years, larger tuition bills, fewer results
For starters, students, on average, are taking longer to graduate. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the six-year graduation rate has significantly increased in recent years, adding to the overall cost of education. In addition, the Center reports that in four-year institutions with open admissions policies, 32 percent of students take six years or more to complete a bachelor’s degree. At four-year institutions where the acceptance rate was less than 25 percent of applicants, the six-year graduation rate was 88 percent.

Tuition and student-loan debt rising are major contributors to this trend. Many students are finding they have to earn income while in school to offset these costs, limiting the time they can spend on coursework, all while their debt grows. Unfortunately, many end up dropping out without a degree to show for their efforts before universities can get involved to provide much-needed student-relief services.

Encouragingly, many institutions are finding data analytics to be an effective tool for helping identify and respond quickly to factors that impact students’ ability to finish their degree and to finish it on time.

Public universities: mines of data-based value
Universities naturally generate a substantial amount of data from many different sources (which often operate autonomously). For example, beacon-equipped campus cafeterias and food courts provide administrators with an extensive data network that can be leveraged to manage the rush of students grabbing food between classes. Key fob scanners are another data source used by administrators to help identify at-risk student groups who may not be leveraging campus resources to their advantage.


11 ways presidents can engage students with social media

Only slightly more than two-thirds (36 percent) of presidents at minority-serving institutions (MSIs) use Twitter, compared to 55 percent of all college and university presidents–and they’re missing out on a big opportunity, according to new research.

Of that MSI group, most don’t post or tweet regularly, meaning they miss chances to connect with current and prospective students, as well as stakeholders and supporters, according to Presidential Engagement of Students at Minority Serving Institutions, which gauges how MSI leaders can use social media to connect with and engage students.

The report comes from the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, and its leader profiles and social media suggestions aren’t necessarily limited to MSI presidents.

“As the student demographics shifts to a more a technologically savvy (and dependent) student population, presidents must also shift in their engagement of social media,” the authors write. “As presidents aim to prioritize authentic relationships with students and cultivate communities on their campuses, many presidents have used social media to better engage with their students.”


How AI will shape the university of the future

In light of the fact that only 59 percent of students who begin pursuing a four-year degree at a higher-ed institution graduate within six years, many in the industry are seeking innovative ways to improve student outcomes.

Recent advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) have led to its adoption across many sectors. The multidisciplinary field presents a wide variety of opportunities for application, giving it great potential for use in higher education. AI encompasses these sub fields:

  • machine learning, used in everything from search engines to recommendation systems
  • natural-language processing, a prominent use case being the language understanding of Amazon’s Alexa
  • computer vision, which is used for tasks such as facial recognition.

We are only beginning to scratch the surface of the many ways this technology could be used to help universities improve the student experience.

AI uses on campus
One way AI could revolutionize the higher ed experience is through automating the course-scheduling process. Rather than the current, sometimes lengthy, process of searching for courses that fit specific schedule and major requirements and deliberating over which ones to take, students could simply input any particular scheduling conflicts, such as a job or extracurricular activity, and receive a suggested course schedule tailored to their academic needs that fits within their time constraints.

Machine learning models could assess a student’s academic record, including previous courses taken and chosen major, to select courses that set the student on a path to graduation. Beyond simply meeting major requirements, however, the models could analyze the student’s past performance and suggest courses in which the student is most likely to succeed. This system could be used effectively from the student’s personal computer, as well as in the advising office. Using AI to automate scheduling could help students to stay on track toward graduation and take courses that will challenge them while also enabling them to succeed.