Number 5: College presidents predict 4 new institutional models for higher-ed

Presidents say these new models could be the future of all colleges and universities in the next decade

model-institution-future[Editor’s note: This story is part of our end-of-year countdown, and was the 5th most popular story on the site in 2014. Keep checking back every day as we build to our top story of 2014! Happy Holidays from eCampus News!]

A new think-tank-esque collection of leading college and university presidents last year came together to discuss the trends and disruptions shaping higher education thanks to new technologies and the evolving global economy. Outside of just naming trends, they also predicted four new models of higher-ed that may exist in the next 10 years.

The brainstorming made formal can be found in a new series of papers called the Presidential Innovation Lab (PIL) White Paper Series, funded as part of a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and hosted by the American Council on Education (ACE).

14 chief executive officers from a diverse group of institutions participated in two separate sessions last year (2013)—institutions such as Northeastern University, MIT, Western Governors University, etc.—with the goal of engaging in a “robust and wide-ranging conversation about the various drivers of change and potential reactions to those drivers.”

“These are neither [absolutes] nor recommendations,” explains Cathy A. Sandeen, vice president for education attainment and Innovation at ACE, and editor of the last series of papers, “Signals and Shifts in Postsecondary Landscape,” “they are offered as food for thought—the context for potential future thinking and future planning.”

According to the paper, new technologies are challenging established models of knowledge delivery and pathways to degrees, as well as current assessment and certification systems.

“This ecosystem holds the promise of providing previously unimaginable access to learning resources to a wider-than-ever global population,” noted Sandeen, “[but] at the same time, it is challenging some of the business and pedagogical models of existing institutions. In this environment, few existing institutions have the luxury of remaining completely unchanged. All of today’s colleges and universities are engaged, to one degree or another, in rethinking the assumptions, structures, and principles that have guided them so far.”

(Next page: 4 new institutional models)

According to the paper, the presidential panel identified some key shifts occurring in higher-ed today, thanks to evolving technologies; and it’s these key shifts that will shape the future of institutions. For example (All key shifts are described in much greater detail, and give technology solution examples, in the full paper):

The rise of the content commons: This refers to open resources and its products, such as MOOCs, video modules, open courses, and on-demand online assistance and expertise. Mobile devices play into this shift, as well as new work and social space designs. Ultimately, this trend “will encourage deeper changes in existing pedagogy, not just the transfer of existing practices to new modalities,” says the paper.

Actionable data streams: Thanks to the prevalence of big data and advanced analytics, student learning can now be highly customized and personalized. Institutions can also use these technologies to identify potential drop-outs and reduce retention, as well as use technologies like eye-tracking software to make instant adjustments to materials that students may find boring.

‘Socialstructed’ work and new work skills: As more companies and jobs look for skills rather than degrees, work is becoming de-institutionalized and a new generation of digital platforms is allowing student skills [badges and ePortfolios] to be showcased. ‘Socialstructing’ is a form of value creation that involves aggregating micro-contributions from large networks of people using social tools and technologies, and many innovative jobs are becoming more ‘socialstructured.’ “Within this model, people, not just institutions, more directly participate in the value they create,” explains Sandeen. “Assuming this ‘socialstructuring’ model continues to evolve, more traditional colleges and universities may find themselves rethinking the kind of skills and knowledge they need to provide their students—both individually and collaboratively—in order to thrive in such as world.”

Alternative assessment and credentialing: Concepts like seat time, credit hours, and a unified institutional degree program are being questioned, says the report, as demonstrated skills through badges and other digital credentials begin to take precedence with companies such as Google. “As credentialing is a core function of colleges and universities, the emerging alternative credential trend will be important to track,” says Sandeen.

Based on these key shifts, as well as keeping in mind the concepts of affordability and student centricity, the college and university presidents part of this think-tank discussed what may be the future of institutions in four distinct models:

1. The historic liberal arts college

Though the paper says that many institutions will not be able to make the transition to the new higher-ed ecosystem, those that do will enhance what they offer through evaluated and customized use of technology—though it will not be scalable and will instead thrive on its idiosyncratic nature. The model will attract students who value the liberal arts, as well as a certain prestige. The model will also limit its offering to undergraduate degrees, while offering advanced learning tools and new spaces, and will require financial support through endowments.

2. The greater community college

This model will serve an even greater segment of the community and will focus on improved access, smaller modules and “boot camps to build student portfolios and achievements that meet the personal learning goals determined by each individual student,” notes the report. Competency-based education, as well as multiple pathways fueled by analytics, diagnostics and goal advisors will be stressed, and the model will also build a “volunteer pipeline from within the larger geographical community, connecting retired workers from the large baby boomer cohort with students to serve as tutors and mentors.”

3. The entrepreneur’s institution

A new model for higher-ed, this will attract aspiring entrepreneurs by doing away with traditional tuition in favor of the institution taking an equity stake in new ventures launched by students and provide a screening process to evaluate business plans. “Venture capital firms will invest in the university in exchange for early access to its students and their discoveries,” describes the report. “The physical campus in this model would offer high-immersion live/work spaces, ample networking events, mentorship, and spontaneous group meetings.” Instead of traditional degrees, credential portfolios would support student career paths “throughout their lives.”

4. The corporate and global learner’s institution

Like Netflix for higher-ed, this for-profit model will charge a monthly subscription fee by offering the equivalent of “frequent-learner point and rewards,” says the report. Using an online platform with skills-gap training for globally-recognized credentials, the online experience will be supplemented with interactive gaming for team-building as an alternative to traditional athletics at brick-and-mortar institutions. “The institution will partner with corporations, state governments, and foundations to identify skills needed in the workforce and to match individual students with job opportunities that align with their competencies and interests.

For more on this report, as well as key takeaways for higher-ed’s future, read the full report . For more information on the other three papers released by the PIL, click here.

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