Can the nation’s most innovative states help higher ed?

Colleges and universities in the most innovative states could leverage that innovation to strengthen internship and career opportunities for their students, and now, a new ranking lays out exactly which states are at the top of innovation.

The WalletHub ranking of the most innovative states compared all 50 states and the District of Columbia across 24 innovation indicators, including share of STEM professionals and tech-company density.

Read more: 4 insights about higher-ed innovation

The findings carry weight as many university leaders say innovation is among their top focuses as they seek to strengthen student retention and produce graduates who are well-prepared for today’s workforce.

Ninety-one percent of all administrators say innovation is a top strategic or academic priority, but just 40 percent say their institution has a dedicated university innovation budget, according to The State of Innovation in Higher Education: A Survey of Academic Administrators.

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How will blockchain transform higher ed? Start with credentials

At Central New Mexico Community College (CNM), empowering students is an important goal, says Tobe Phelps, senior director of online college. Giving students a permanent, secure digital record of their accomplishments that they can take with them when they graduate aligns perfectly with this objective.

“When we issue a diploma to a student, that diploma still belongs to the college, and the student must get a certified copy from us,” Phelps says. “If they try to get a job or move on to another college, all of those (entities) have to come back to us for validation of the student’s credentials.”

By using a technology called blockchain, “we’re able to take that certification and give it to the student as an official record they own themselves,” he says. “We can be completely out of the circle.”

Updating the credentialing process

Blockchain is the technology that Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies use to record financial transactions. In academia, a small but growing number of colleges and universities are using blockchain to confer degrees and certificates—and supporters of the technology believe it could revolutionize the credentialing process.

Related: Where is blockchain technology going in the future?

A blockchain is a secure digital ledger of transactions in which each block builds on the previous one, making the entire chain immutable. When used to record financial transactions, a blockchain indicates the history of who sent and received the currency and how much it’s worth.

The same concept underlies the use of blockchain for academic credentialing. Every new degree, certification, digital badge, or other honor that students earn throughout their lives would be added to this record like links in a chain, and these credentials would be tamper-proof to give employers some assurance that students actually earned them.

With paper or digital transcripts, colleges and universities own this information—and students or alumni must engage in a tedious process to access these records or share them with employers. The promise of blockchain is that it will allow students to maintain their own academic record in a way that can’t be tampered with—while continuing to build on this record throughout their career.

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What can colleges learn from chief enrollment officers?

In a recent survey from Witt/Kieffer, chief enrollment officers share their thoughts on the intensifying pressure they face from college presidents, provosts, colleagues, and departments such as student affairs and marketing.

The survey found that 83 percent of the 137 chief enrollment officers surveyed say they are optimistic about the future of the enrollment profession, and 64 percent say they plan to stay in the enrollment field.

Chief enrollment officers’ main goal is to find the best match and right number of students for their specific institution, but this task is complicated by a shrinking student pool, the need to please a wide range of stakeholders, the relative newness of the profession, and the wide range of skills needed to satisfy the growing challenges accompanying the profession.

Related: Here are a few proven ways, some involving edtech, to boost enrollment & retention

“It’s a profession in which the expectations are continuing to increase, and the pressures are especially high given national demographic challenges and the relationship between tuition revenue and institutions’ budgets,” says Amy Crutchfield, principal and deputy director of education for Witt/Kieffer. “What that means is that so many institutions are looking for the same things–everyone is trying to increase the number of students at their institutions, and at the same time the number of available students keeps declining. The role becomes increasingly important for institutions.”

Here’s what some of the surveyed chief enrollment officers said about their profession:

Enrollment leadership in flux

1. “I love the field but it is exhausting and all-consuming.”

2. “High expectations, heavy work load, high stress … I’m worried about the next generation of enrollment management leaders.”

3. “The enrollment profession has never been more important to the sustainability of higher education.”

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3 free tech tools every university educator needs now

Nobody told me it would be this complicated!

I love my work as a tenure-track faculty member, but this is multi-tasking to the max: Students, advisees, research, courses, writing, committees, grants… Oh my! I don’t know about you, but it’s is a little overwhelming. Any help I can get with organization is a plus. Here are three free tech tools I use to help me find a little sanity in my day.

3 organizational tools every educator can use

1. Trello

I love it! It provides instant organization. Trello is a collaborative board that allows me to organize my projects, set due dates and reminders, and share my work with others if I’m working on a team project. Trello is very user friendly. The paid version gives you more bells and whistles but I find the free version does everything I need.

At the beginning of this semester, I set up five “boards” with different projects I’m working on. It works like the old index-card system for organizing that those of us of a certain age remember using. I can set up to-do lists, have sub lists, search my cards, link my Google Docs, and—if I want to really procrastinate—change the background.

The best part, though, is the collaboration feature. My writing partners and I use it all the time when meeting in person or virtually and tracking our projects has been so much more organized. There’s also an app for your mobile device.

2. AdobeScan

Just fantastic! Use your phone as a scanner for any docs you need to save and secure as a PDF. I often need to sign forms for work and then have to take them to our department copier to scan and attach to an email. It’s fine if I’m in my office but I’m often in the field, working in classrooms, or even at home. With AdobeScan, I don’t have to find a scanner anymore. I can scan the document with my phone, save it as a PDF, and attach it to an email. I can even fill out PDFs from my phone using this app. I can save my forms to the cloud and the app shows all of my stored PDFs. And—just to make this even more user friendly—AdobeScan has a share feature so it’s terrific if you’re working on a collaborative project. D

3. Evernote

This is a shout out to the mobile version. Many of you probably use the full site when you’re doing research, but I read a lot on my phone and I really love adding articles via the mobile app. For example, @ecampusnews shares great articles all the time, many of which I use in my classroom. I can easily save these articles to the folders I have for my different courses and then share them with my students. I also love to use Evernote’s share feature with my colleagues or students I’m doing research with. It’s very easy to use; cheers to Evernote for making this app very user friendly.

Related: 22 favorite mobile apps: Appy Hour on the Future Trends Forum

I hope these are helpful tools for you as you we head into the final stretch of the semester and begin to plan or maybe even wrap up our many projects. As usual, if you have any questions or comments I’m available at jingle@bridgew.edu and on Twitter @careyingle.

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4 student mental health apps to ease stress

More colleges and universities are turning to technology–including web portals and student mental health apps–to address anxiety, mindfulness, and well-being.

The YOU at College portal is one such resource for student mental health. Created by Grit Digital Health and Colorado State University (CSU), the well-being web portal promotes student mental health, health, and success. After its fall 2015 launch at CSU, 81 percent of surveyed first-year students said they felt they were better able to manage their stress because of the YOU tool.

The portal is customized for each individual campus and personalized to the specific needs of each student. It proactively focuses on three critical areas of student life: academics, physical/mental health, and purpose/connection. Students create a confidential profile and receive content and information on available campus resources that help them navigate the college experience according to their individual needs.

Read more: How to use tech to address students’ mental health

YOU at College has been adopted by 22 schools, including Coastal Carolina University, South Dakota State University, Connecticut College, and Loyola Marymount University.

“Like so many schools across the country, we’ve wrestled with an increased student need for mental health services,” says Dan Bureau, associate vice president for student success at the University of Memphis, which uses the YOU portal. “In just its first three months, more than 1,060 students, faculty and staff took advantage of the resources available on YOU at Memphis. We believe this platform will be a factor in helping our students be successful and realize their academic, career, and psychosocial goals.”

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Are you doing all you can to support first-generation college students?

With college accessibility front and center, many institutions are actively seeking ways to support first-generation college students, and a report from NASPA and The Suder Foundation offers a comprehensive look at the best practices among colleges and universities supporting first-generation students.

While 80 percent of four-year institutions identify first-generation status upon admission, many aren’t doing enough to support first-generation students when they come to campus.

Paving the way to graduation

“First-generation students now make up a third of students nationwide, yet only 27 percent will earn a bachelor’s degree within four years of entering college, lagging far behind their continuing-generation peers,” says Sarah E. Whitley, senior director of the Center for First-generation Student Success. “While we know first-generation students are capable and making significant contributions, services for students are in flux across institutions today.”

Related: 5 ways our college is helping first-generation college students succeed

The report shows that institutions are inconsistent in sharing information across campus and monitoring outcomes for first-generation students–only 61 percent of four-year institutions track outcomes for these students; just 41 percent use data to inform support programs for them; and only 28 percent store information on first-generation status in systems that faculty can access and use.

An asset-based approach

The campuses that are most successful in supporting first-generation college students take an “asset-based approach” that recognizes the substantial contributions of first-generation students to academics and campus life–to developing programs that utilize the inherent strengths of first-generation students to improve belonging, efficacy, and overall outcomes.

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What can online education learn from March Madness?

America is increasingly a nation of haves and have-nots, and higher education is no exception. The endowments of the top 30 institutions exceed the endowments of every other college and university combined. And in college basketball—which culminates this month—money is perhaps the dominant factor setting apart winner and losers. A big budget doesn’t guarantee a ticket to the Big Dance, but few teams make it there without one.

How big is your budget?

In the coming years, we expect to see a similar pattern in the world of online education, with large budgets and well-known brands taking the lion’s share of the market. Already, the 10 institutions with the largest online programs enroll one in every five online students. A growing number of universities have launched online degree programs (in many cases with the assistance of online program managers like 2U or Wiley), and the market will continue to get more crowded. According to Eduventures, 95 percent of universities plan to launch online degree programs by 2020. And Coventry University in the UK has announced a plan to launch not one but 50 online degree programs in the next five years.

But unlike their brick-and-mortar counterparts, online programs have to compete nationally, if not globally—a dynamic that favors big brands, which tend to thrive within winner-take-all, digital markets. And so, the big programs will get even bigger, and the 2,500-plus other colleges and universities will have to find ways to differentiate themselves in the online world.

Related: Higher ed: We are missing the boat in online learning

Those institutions should take a page from the Cinderellas who manage to upset a top-seeded team or two each year in the NCAA Tournament. What sets them apart? Tenacity, of course, but more critically a focus on fundamentals and flawless execution.

In online education, that translates to an unwavering focus on learning design.

Calling all instructional designers

The look and feel of online courses—and the overall learning experience they foster—are beginning to diverge in ways that are evident to education consumers. To crib from Animal Farm, all online courses are digital, but some are more digital than others.

Just as individuals don’t have to be gaming experts to recognize that playing the latest version of Zelda—which has been called the “best-designed game ever”—is a wildly different experience than older versions, so, too, can students tell a difference between an old-school learning management system and modern online learning experiences.

This then begs the question: What does high-quality learning design look like?

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Why online faculty should use a Master Course Shell

Often times in higher education, faculty are asked to share their course content with other faculty members who teach the same course. Many people balk at the idea for the sake of holding tight to intellectual property. For example, on a campus where I currently work, there are 12 sections for Introduction to Communication; the course is a requirement for every student. Out of the 12 sections, two are online. No one—and I mean no one—uses the same content or teaches the course similarly. Each students gets a different experience and different content delivered a different way. There are different expectations from faculty who teach 12 different sections. Need I say different again? Does this help or hinder students?

When standardization makes sense

In some online learning programs, there is the concept of a “Master Course Shell.” Faculty in a program or who teach the same course get together and design a Master Course Shell that everyone agrees on. Then, at the beginning of a semester, each faculty member copies the content from the Master Course Shell to their live course shell, tweaking it a bit to personalize the course for their students. They may take out an assignment or two or add a discussion or rubric, but the textbook is the same and students across programs get a similar experience.

This can be done within a degree program as well. The University of Wisconsin – Superior has Graduate Education Online. Each course in the program has a Master Course Shell that faculty copy into a live shell. Each Master Course Shell is based in Universal Design for Learning, so students experience the same layout with each course. Taking this program from face-to-face to online has increased enrollment significantly and was a huge success for a floundering program.

Related: Universal design for learning: 3 aces up our IT sleeves

The copyright issue

Does this concept impede on faculty’s intellectual property? Well, no. Faculty can still add to the course after the original content is copied from the Master Course Shell. And if faculty hold the copyright to content, it should be stated within the course.

So does this help students? Well, yes. Students experience a lot of cognitive overload, which is what happens when too much information is given to a student too quickly, including trying to navigate course content that is different from the last course. If a student takes three courses a semester online in a program and each course is laid out differently with different expectations, then it can be confusing.

Consistency is the key to student success. Students also talk amongst themselves and seek out the courses that tend to be “easier” with one faculty member versus another. This has a ripple effect when some faculty have full classes and others do not.

I encourage faculty to try using a Master Course Shell. It is a good thing to collaborate on course design with your colleagues. You will find something better and build relationships not only with other faculty members in a program but with students who will see that everything can be equal and inclusive in courses.

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Developing higher-ed leadership from within

 [Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Community College Daily.]

Rachel Benavides is getting a look behind the community college curtain. What she sees is an industry going through tectonic change.

“In the past, community colleges have been more enrollment-based than outcome-based,” said Benavides, director of Del Mar College’s adult education and literacy program and a member of its inaugural Next Generation Leadership Academy (NGLA). “Now, instead of looking at the front end, we’re looking at the back end and what we as a college have to do to help students get to completion. This is all fresh and new to me.”

Developing the next generation of higher-ed leaders

The Texas college kicked off the NGLA last fall to nurture in-house talent and address an impending void of qualified college leaders. A partnership with Civitas Learning, the yearlong program puts 23 selected employees together in a room one day a month, where they learn about the issues facing colleges today and discuss how to drive change in the future.

Participants hear from nationally recognized higher education professionals such as Gerardo de los Santos and Mark Milliron, as well as Del Mar’s own leaders.

“It’s been noted that Gen Xers, myself included, are inclined to reach out, impart knowledge, and pass on leadership opportunities to the next generation,” said Del mar President Mark Escamilla. “I’m proud to be a part of that.”

Related: Here’s a way for colleges to help develop tomorrow’s leaders

Besides theory-based curriculum and lunch-and-learn discussions, the program includes a fun component reminiscent of the Shark Tank TV show, in which NGLA participants must decide the best way to use an imaginary gift of $1 million from business tycoon Warren Buffett to benefit the college.

“They have to think outside the box about what would have a minimum cost and a big impact,” said Rito Silva, Del Mar vice president of student affairs and the NGLA facilitator. “At the same time, they’re creating leaders and forming relationships.”

Tapping internal knowledge

There is an element of urgency to the program. Widespread retirement of leaders in the next five to seven years is expected to create more vacancies than can be filled, Silva said. And most college leaders are so busy dealing with budget crunches, declining enrollment, government regulations and a changing political climate that worrying about who’s going to be a dean or president in the next few years is a luxury many they don’t have.

“That’s why these programs are important for the overall survival of the college,” Silva said.

Nationally, the community college sector sees some 250 turnovers annually among its presidents, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

“It’s important to grow our own leaders,” Silva continued. “We could look externally, but there are certain things about internal candidates that are valuable…they have a history and they know the culture of the college.”

Related: 8 college presidents on “the best leadership advice I’ve ever received”

Del Mar’s goal with the NGLA program isn’t to indoctrinate employees into doing things in established ways, Escamilla said. It’s to create new ways of thinking by sharing information that previously was held close to the vest.

“Hanging on to the tricks of the trade is an outdated, selfish practice,” Escamilla said. “Sharing knowledge and skillsets is what makes us all better and more proficient in our jobs. This is key to embracing changes happening across the country in higher education.”

There’s more to the story! Read the full article in CC Daily.

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Massive initiative targets college to career transition

A business major working full-time who worries about balancing financial needs with pursuing a job change after graduation. A student preparing for a “practical” path to dental school to provide for his low-income family, but whose passion is music. A first-generation college student who isn’t quite convinced she’ll wind up loving her career field.

These students are representative of college students across the nation who are struggling to make their way through higher ed and who don’t necessarily feel prepared for the “real world.” But connecting college to career could help drastically with the transition.

Read more: Fewer than half of college students are ready for the workforce

A major three-year project from the University Innovation Alliance (UIA), funded with a $2.4 million grand from the Strada Education Network, intends to “develop and test new strategies for supporting students as they prepare to work,” writes Dr. Anna Drake Warshaw, UIA’s director of partnerships, learning, and evaluation.

The Bridging the Gap from Education to Employment (BGEE) project uses mapping and design thinking to understand what happens as students transition from college to career, and to learn how we can do better as we try to help them, Warshaw writes.

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