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Future Schools

Analyzing lessons learned and innovations formed post-pandemic

Michael Horowitz has spent more than three decades transforming institutions to positively impact the lives of students and the communities they serve. He founded The Community Solution Education System in 2009, a nonprofit system designed to empower institutions to advance student success and community impact. In the years since its founding, The Community Solution has grown from one to six colleges and universities, spanning 12 metropolitan locations, and educating more than 13,580 students annually. The Community Solution includes The Chicago School, Pacific Oaks College & Children’s School, Saybrook University, The Colleges of Law, Kansas Health Science Center, and University of Western States. Recent initiatives include:

In 2021, he oversaw the launch of the Kansas College of Osteopathic Medicine, which will soon deliver its first cohort of graduates to rural counties across Kansas — 92 of which are medically underserved.  

·    Pacific Oaks College, another member institution, established a student residency program in 2023 that will deliver 150 qualified K-12 teachers to Sacramento’s school districts over the next three years. 

·    The newest member, University of Western States, recently launched a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine program to help answer a growing need and desire by patients for a more whole person approach to health care. 

In this conversation, we dive deep into the evolving landscape of higher education, particularly in the context of emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, with a heavy focus on the integration of technology and flexible learning formats to adapt to the changing needs of students and institutions. Key themes include the transition to hybrid education models, the significance of technology in enhancing learning experiences, and the role of shared infrastructure and collaboration among institutions. 

Additionally, we discuss the importance of relevant programs, addressing funding challenges, and leveraging technology for student retention and completion. The transcript highlights the optimism for the future of higher education, fueled by innovative approaches and collaborative efforts. Have a listen:

Here are some highlights:

  • Transition to Hybrid Education: The pandemic accelerated the adoption of hybrid education models, combining online and in-person elements to provide flexible learning options. This approach allows institutions to reach students across diverse geographic locations while maintaining educational quality.
  • Embracing Technology: Technology plays a crucial role in enhancing learning experiences and administrative processes. Virtual reality, AI, and automation are leveraged to facilitate virtual anatomy classes, streamline administrative tasks, and improve student support services.
  • Collaborative Infrastructure: Shared infrastructure among multiple institutions fosters collaboration and efficiency. Collaborative efforts enable institutions to pool resources, share best practices, and innovate collectively, leading to improved educational outcomes.
  • Focus on Relevant Programs: Institutions prioritize programs that meet market needs, such as healthcare, education, and social work. Efforts are directed towards addressing critical shortages in professions like teaching through advocacy for funding and program development.
  • Enhancing Student Support: Technology is utilized to enhance student support services, including academic advising and intervention strategies. AI-powered dashboards enable institutions to track student progress and intervene promptly to address challenges related to academics, finances, or personal issues.
  • Global Expansion and Collaboration: Institutions are exploring opportunities for global expansion and partnerships to broaden their reach and provide diverse learning opportunities. Collaboration with international partners facilitates knowledge exchange and opens pathways for student mobility.
  • Optimism for the Future: Despite challenges, there is optimism for the future of higher education. Innovations in technology, program development, and collaborative initiatives are poised to transform the higher education landscape and address key issues like student retention and completion.

Below is a machine-generated transcript of the conversation


00:00:04 Speaker 2 

OK, Michael. Thanks so much for joining me today. I really appreciate your time and uh hopeful for some great insights. 

00:00:10 Speaker 1 

It’s a pleasure to be here, Kevin. 

00:00:12 Speaker 2 

Let’s jump right into it. As we were talking before we started recording. We’re kind of here still emerging from the the pandemic. And as with most things. 

00:00:22 Speaker 2 

Uh, on this planet, higher education is still in kind of a transition, I think as a result of of the past few years. Maybe talk about your work. I know it it goes back well before the pandemic. Back to to 2009, but talk a little bit about where you see the current state of play when it comes to higher at. 

00:00:43 Speaker 1 

Well, great. As you note, I founded the Community solution education system in 2009. We’re a national nonprofit system of six colleges and universities integrated with excellent infrastructure at the governance level, close to 14,000 students. We’re going to educate. 

00:01:04 Speaker 1 

This year, as you as you know, prior to the pandemic. 

00:01:08 Speaker 1 

Like we were always forward-looking with respect to technology and connection. So I think for the most part we came through the pandemic hole and in some cases even increasing our enrollment and success not in every single one of our colleges with different. 

00:01:28 Speaker 1 

Communities were very sensitive to, you know, some of the students had higher responsibilities for work and family. 

00:01:36 Speaker 1 

We come out of it even more committed to the embrace of technology and really a national and global student body. So while our six universities have physical locations and in a couple of cases multiple physical locations, we educate in 50 states. 

00:01:56 Speaker 1 

Because we think with the with the pandemic has really seared in is a hybrid format. 

00:02:03 Speaker 1 

Of education is not only convenient, it can be outstanding and excellent. So we’re only limited to the extent there are, you know, regulatory directives that keep us from fully implementing that strategy. But more and more, we find that students either want online. 

00:02:24 Speaker 1 

Or a hybrid format, particularly in the professional fields that we educate for, the in person is critically important and I think it’s been fascinating to see with that focus, you can really tailor the in person and the online to maximum educational impact. 

00:02:44 Speaker 2 

Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s not an all or nothing scenario, right? I mean I know like pre pandemic we would talk about this and we could talk about the various acronyms. But MOOC’s, you know, having online lectures and then now everything’s going to go fully remote or not, now we have this, this hybrid or high flex situation which as you say. 

00:03:05 Speaker 2 

It it can be. 

00:03:06 Speaker 2 


00:03:07 Speaker 2 

Depending on the the class, depending on the professor, depending on the institution, right? 

00:03:12 Speaker 1 

Correct. At our law school, they have the hybrid JD first in California. For them it’s a weekend of month and most of their student body comes from California. But it means now they can reach students who are are able to commute to Ventura only once a month instead of three or four nights a week. 

00:03:33 Speaker 1 

Which is the ground format for other programs. 

00:03:37 Speaker 1 

It may be a week or a week, and once a year and then there are other programs that can do well all online over at Saybrook University. They’re really folk, which is broadly online and low residency. They’re bringing a lot of technology resources to their academic comments. 

00:03:57 Speaker 1 

So they’re thinking about as an online student needs dissertation advising, academic advising. How do you make it very user friendly? How do you make it accessible? So for us it’s a very exciting and. 

00:04:12 Speaker 1 

Inspirational time in higher Ed. We’re certainly happy that the that the pandemic is over and and COVID is not as much of a factor. 

00:04:22 Speaker 2 

Absolutely. One other not maybe not surprising thing, but one interesting thing that I found that came came out of all of this was the changes when it came to maybe more of the back office administration. 

00:04:36 Speaker 2 

Aspects of institutes of higher learning versus maybe the instructional. I mean, I think the focus always is on the kind of like the the professor to the student in the classroom dynamic in terms of giving lectures and back and forth. But the new office hours that might happen like this over zoom. 

00:04:55 Speaker 1 


00:04:55 Speaker 2 

Some of the other administrative sort of things, even just meeting with the counselor on your your curriculum or what great classes are going to take next year, those things have seem to be more radicalized maybe than even to traditional instruction, right? 

00:05:09 Speaker 1 

Well, even the ground student and I, I would say our students are average age of 35 years old heavily in grad programs through our undergrad is growing as well. The online and low residency format, one in three are first in their family to earn a. 

00:05:30 Speaker 1 

A degree and more than half identify as coming from an underrepresented community. What? Why is that important? That for those kinds of things you’re referencing, they need access and ease. Very few students. 

00:05:45 Speaker 1 

Even younger students on a campus are looking to walk in to a registrar’s office or a burst the way they did. So you have to make use. We’re trying to do more and more with AI and automation. Get first answers through that format. If not, make it simple and easy to connect. I mean. 

00:06:05 Speaker 1 

Recently on the weekend I needed some help. I went to her, you know IT help desk and gentlemen in Washington DC. 

00:06:15 Speaker 1 

Answered. I’m in Chicago and within a few minutes I was on my way. 

00:06:19 Speaker 2 

Yeah. Yeah. Another kind of emerging technology. When you talk about augmented reality and in, in virtual reality in some of these classes and the ability to do things remotely, I know you have some programs that involve medical institutions and and and looking at things like that. 

00:06:40 Speaker 2 

Have you had any explorations when it comes to that? 

00:06:44 Speaker 1 

I mean that that’s one of the most exciting things I’ve participated in. We’ve had multiple tours. 

00:06:51 Speaker 1 

So at the Kansas College of Osteopathic Medicine, which is a project we started in 2019, in 2021 it opened. They’re about to recruit their third class. They went from the outset with virtual anatomy. So the students put on something called the hollow lens. 

00:07:10 Speaker 1 

And you know, it’s covering their eyes, although they can, they could still also see within the room. And there you have it. The human body in three dimension almost a holographic kind of look. You can deep dive into certain parts of the body. You can pull back it. It’s. 

00:07:30 Speaker 1 

I think a complete game changer. 

00:07:33 Speaker 1 

Now the University of Western States, which is over 100 years old and currently has a cadaver lab, also wants to look at exploring virtual anatomy. And we have the proposed Illinois College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Chicago school that will also. 

00:07:53 Speaker 1 

Go full in to virtual anatomy and I think the use of that technology is going to extend to psychology and any other discipline that needs to study the brain. I I think again we have to be. 

00:08:11 Speaker 1 

We we have to embrace technology as it emerges and see the best case use of it. I’ll add also that it Kansas come they’re working one of the leading experts in AI medicine, doctor Anthony Chang out of California. So he and I recently had a. 

00:08:31 Speaker 1 

Great chat and looked at a program called Glass Health where healthcare professionals can type in symptoms. 

00:08:38 Speaker 1 

And you know, within minutes it doesn’t replace the clinician, but within minutes is an organized set of possible diagnosis, a treatment plan. And I think he made a great point that. 

00:08:51 Speaker 1 

This technology is not going to replace physicians or other healthcare workers. It’s going to add to their capability. So I I think part of it is getting out of that mindset and making sure professionals are best equipped to use new technology. 

00:09:09 Speaker 2 

Yeah, that definitely seems to be a a theme that is evolving. I mean, not only for what you’re talking specifically about doctors, but also you know, we have E school news. So we look at at K12 education as well and the boogeyman of AI replacing teachers as we go along and the hype seems to come down. 

00:09:28 Speaker 2 

And you know that that was, that was put him in higher Ed too, right? I mean, in terms of that that, that affecting that it’s now seen more it’s like. 

00:09:32 Speaker 1 

Yeah, for sure. 

00:09:37 Speaker 2 

It’s a tool for educators to enhance their work. 

00:09:42 Speaker 2 


00:09:43 Speaker 1 

That’s exactly right. I mean, I met a law professor not from our law school. That said, oh, I’m. I’m going back to Blue Books because I don’t want students to cheat. I I didn’t think that was the right direction. You know, we have a teaching and learning expert for all of our faculty across the institutions. 

00:10:03 Speaker 1 

Actor Sean Neuffer and. 

00:10:05 Speaker 1 

Instead of the Blue book approach, you know he can help faculty teach how to use the AI ChatGPT or similar to serially inquire and improve the product. So this that that was a boogeyman about cheating. Cheating didn’t start because of AI. It was there. So you know, we’re not going to change the fact that. 

00:10:26 Speaker 1 

Cheating those goes on, goes on. But we have to look to how to educate students better. I would say that the AI can provide for some excellent tutoring elements and improvement of skills certainly doesn’t replace. 

00:10:42 Speaker 1 

The human teacher and, and I think all of this is again about what’s the best use of the human interaction and what’s the best use of technology as well as the interface. 



00:10:57 Speaker 2 

Well, we, we covered a gamut of technologies and innovations here in just a couple of minutes and I think a lot of times with these conversations for our readers and listeners, it can become a bit overwhelming. Do you have any suggestions on how to? 

00:11:15 Speaker 2 

Prioritize these things and our readers kind of. 

00:11:18 Speaker 2 

Day-to-day work as leaders of institutions of higher education. 

00:11:23 Speaker 1 

Well, I want to go back because I think I I skipped over your question about shared infrastructure, right. So for many years. 

00:11:34 Speaker 1 

We have tried to do as one system of multiple universities the use of technology, non educational systems. 

00:11:47 Speaker 1 

And that, from my point of view, there are only good things to say about that. There’s no reason for small universities to replicate. 

00:11:55 Speaker 1 

It teams and finance and marketing and all those elements. I think the part that’s been missed when we focus only on services or infrastructure is we create a a powerful community of academics and people. So when you talk about prioritizing. 

00:12:13 Speaker 1 

It’s not just that we have. 

00:12:16 Speaker 1 

One IT team for the six universities, we also have a Presidents Council and a faculty assembly and a group of provosts that can get together and talk about what what’s low, hanging fruit, what’s the priority? I think the the virtual anatomy is a great example. We use it at 1 institution. 

00:12:36 Speaker 1 

But now we’re going to have a dialogue among three about the best way to teach it. What can we share? What software should we use? And so on. So I I think you make a great point to not try and. 

00:12:51 Speaker 1 

Bite it all at once and sort of look from the programmatic and college level. What would be most meaningful for our institutions? 

00:13:01 Speaker 2 

Yeah, and finally, let me ask you, what are your hopes are for the next couple of years when you look into your your crystal ball and as we continue to thankfully emerge from the past few years where you do you see your institutions in the next couple of years, you know either with the use of technology or other advanced? 

00:13:18 Speaker 2 


00:13:20 Speaker 1 

While our institutions continue to grow, so I know we’re we’re offering very relevant programs. I think it’s key that institutions have programs that meet the market need. You know Pacific Oaks is educates teachers and early childhood educators. 

00:13:39 Speaker 1 

What could be more important on that end? You know, we’re we’re continuing to be very involved in looking for sources for funding because there there is a crisis in candidates willing to go into teaching. 

00:13:54 Speaker 1 

Yet we need them. So we’re going to be talking in, in state houses and looking for every opportunity for loan payback. So relevant programs, healthcare, education, social work, etcetera. I’m very excited that we can bring the six universities together to look at the technology together to look at the way. 

00:14:15 Speaker 1 

For education, there are too many conventions. 

00:14:17 Speaker 1 

And in higher Ed that we need to break up, we have a number of our colleges working on a three-year bachelor’s degree. So part of the beauty of our system is the breadth when University of Western States joined, we are now with a new accreditor for them, the Northwest Commission they approved. 

00:14:37 Speaker 1 

Three-year bachelors. So our other institutions are going to go to their main accreditor wasp with the same idea. I think we have to focus on shortening time to degree, which is of course. 

00:14:49 Speaker 1 

Probably the biggest issue on cost. 

00:14:52 Speaker 1 

I’m super excited to focus on retention and completion, which remains the biggest problem higher Ed has we have, you know, a lot of institutions are worried about the demographic. I’m not so worried because we can reach students in 50 states. There are so many people with credits without degrees. 

00:15:13 Speaker 1 

So we’re just in the early days of AI. 

00:15:16 Speaker 1 

Enhanced dashboards that can go down to the micro level of a student in the course track progress and give us the opportunity to intervene. What? What’s the issue? Financial, academic. Family. Something else? So. 

00:15:32 Speaker 1 

I I’m super pumped. We’re going to have an we’re going to have our first non-us partnership and Learning Center opening in the fall in Vancouver, Canada we get. 

00:15:45 Speaker 1 

Quite a few students from Canada we want to explore the opportunities to educate more Canadian students. We also think that’s a great city for a gateway to the rest of the world. So a lot of that comes from again the strength of our shared infrastructure. And I’d say even more the pulling of our people. 

00:16:06 Speaker 1 

That that help us kind of look more broadly than one institution on its own. 

00:16:11 Speaker 2 

Yeah, great stuff. Well, Michael, lots of exciting work that you’re that you’re doing there and it’s it’s important. I appreciate the work that you’re doing for. 

00:16:22 Speaker 2 

You know the betterment of us all and appreciate these these insights. I think it will be really worthwhile sharing these best practices with our readers. So thanks again. 

00:16:31 Speaker 1 

Thanks. It’s been great speaking with you, Kevin. 

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