Innovation, innovation, innovation. Higher-ed innovation is a much-loved phrase, and it’s also something academic leaders strive to define and embrace.

But how, exactly, do you define higher-ed innovation when it can look different depending on your place in academia? It’s often difficult to keep momentum going in higher-ed innovation, and innovation for innovation’s sake won’t necessarily help if student success isn’t at the forefront of innovation initiatives.

Here are three examples of where higher-ed innovation stands today–it is found at all levels and in all departments, and these examples just might inspire you to think about innovation from a different point of view.

1. Castle Rock, Colorado, is one of the fastest growing cities in the state, with 19.5-percent growth in the past six years. Previously, 80 percent of residents commuted outside the city for work; however, citizens in Castle Rock and greater Douglas County, Colorado, have a newfound commitment to transform the city into a standalone community that offers residents an abundance of career opportunities.

In response, Arapahoe Community College (ACC), the town of Castle Rock, Castle Rock Economic Development Council, Colorado State University (CSU), and the Douglas County School District (DCSD) formed a joint venture to change the educational landscape for local students and the surrounding community. The alliance is also serving as a national model for communities seeking to create a collaborative higher-ed hub that builds a local talent pipeline and drives regional and state-wide economic growth.

When it opens this fall, the Arapahoe Community College Sturm Collaboration Campus will offer learners a seamless transition from high school diploma to associate degree to bachelor’s degree to career, with the goal of having multiple on- and off-ramps along the way.

2. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) is re-imagining the traditional concept of college as the middle ground between high school and the workplace.

In a merger with LRNG, a nonprofit that serves disadvantaged youth populations, SNHU will work with cities and employers to develop innovative learning and workforce solutions. The ambitious effort will reach out to both pre-college and older learners, offer opportunities to youth from low-income backgrounds to become more engaged with their studies and help them transition into rewarding careers.

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

By using a technology called blockchain, the college can essentially take that certification and give it to the student as an official record they own themselves. 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.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura

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