Innovation in College & Career Preparation

To Drive Change, Schools and Policymakers Must Collaborate, Clarify Goals and Rethink Delivery of Higher Education

By Lorenzo L. Esters, Senior Program Director, National Engagement and Philanthropy, USA Funds

How can postsecondary institutions most effectively decrease time to degree and costs to students while also facilitating career readiness?

Lorenzo Esters at HBCU Student Success SummitIt is a question that USA Funds® is seeking to answer by engaging postsecondary education providers through its Innovation in College and Career Preparation strategy, which seeks to transform the delivery of higher education through the use of technology, new processes, systems or partnerships.

Innovation in College and Career Preparation is one of the ways in which USA Funds is advancing Completion With a PurposeSM to support postsecondary education students’ attainment of credentials and competencies that lead to productive and rewarding jobs and careers and thus to economic, civic and creative contributions to their communities and to society.  The answer to this question could very well be the key to making a higher education credential or degree more attainable, affordable, and a reality for millions more Americans.

During the recent HBCU Student Success Summit of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, I moderated a panel discussion on driving innovation at the campus, state or national levels. In my closing question, I asked each of the panelists, whose organizations are spearheading USA Funds-supported initiatives to improve student outcomes, to complete this sentence: “The key to driving higher education innovation is _____________.”

Tim Renick, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Success at Georgia State University, which recently helped establish the University Innovation Alliance (UIA).

“The key to driving higher education innovation is collaboration. Competition is the norm in higher education. We compete on the sports fields and in the rankings; we compete for grants and for faculty. When it comes to helping more students, especially low-income students, graduate, it is time that we put competition aside. Collaboration is the foundational concept behind the University Innovation Alliance ‒ an undertaking of 11 of the largest public research universities in the U.S. Our first year project is to scale the use of Integrated Planning and Advising Systems (IPAS) across our institutions and to identify and diffuse best practices for deploying these system to help students from all backgrounds succeed at high rates. With new technologies such as IPAS, there are two possible paths forward: one has each school learning what works slowly and on its own by trial and error. The other accelerates learning by sharing experience and pooling resources across campuses. American higher education has tried the former path. Our students deserve better, and the UIA is dedicated to delivering more effective answers that can be scaled quickly and effectively.”

The UIA was expressly founded to discover, scale and champion new approaches to graduating more students, especially students from low-income backgrounds.

Brian Sponsler, director of the Postsecondary and Workforce Development Institute at the Education Commission of the States:

“The key to driving higher education innovation is clarity of goals. Reinventing, reimagining, and redoing policies, systems and processes is in many cases the easy part of innovation; the hard work is in creating a transparent, understandable, and consistent narrative about the desired goals and outcomes innovation is intended to advance. In the case of the Education Commission of the States work on state financial aid redesign, we’ve repeatedly found that the emergence of new student groups has shifted the focus of state educational attainment initiatives. As this shift happens, it is critical that innovation be grounded in a clear understanding of who redesigned programs are intended to serve and the outcomes they are trying to advance – an understanding that can only come through clarity of goals.”

The ECS recently launched its State Financial Aid Redesign project, which is exploring how state financial aid programs can be reconfigured to better serve today’s college students, including the growing ranks of older, nontraditional students.

Charles Ambrose, President of the University of Central Missouri, a participating institution in the Missouri Innovation Collaborative:

“The key to driving innovation in higher education is to create an educational delivery system that meets learners “where they live,” both figuratively and literally. The University of Central Missouri, with the help of two grants from USA Funds, hopes to validate such a model by empirically testing a tri-enrollment program (high schools, community colleges, and a four-year institution) that utilizes a competency-based curriculum and alternative credentialing coupled with extensive internships with selected business partners.  These partners not only provide real-world experiences for the students, but also play a major role in the determination of the student learning outcomes for each program, the competencies associated with each, as well as the assessment of those competencies in the work setting.”

Ambrose’s dedication to finding ways to accelerate the time it takes for students to complete a degree, reduce college debt load, and provide experiential learning, led to the establishment of the Missouri Innovation Campus in 2012.

Emily Sellers, Director of Outreach and Engagement for the Indiana Commission for Higher Education:

“The key to driving higher education innovation is developing students’ skills, setting them up for success in college and beyond. More employers indicate the need for more college graduates with the essential skills and competencies their businesses need. College Success Coaching helps students develop the skills employers are looking for and the skills they need to effectively find a job. One-on-one coaching allows students to assess what they want out of college, guides them in developing a purposeful plan, and equips them with essential habits and skills to accomplish their goals. Working with their coach, students develop leadership, time management, critical-thinking, budgeting, self-advocacy, and related skills critical to their long-term success in college and in their careers.”

Sellers is also the director of the College Success Coaching initiative, which seeks to boost retention rates for Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars via a high-touch, high-tech coaching service that identifies at-risk students and delivers 1:1 coaching.

In a recently published book, Designing the New American University, Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University, and co-author William Dabars outline what is needed for postsecondary education providers to be more innovative in their efforts to serve, support and graduate a more diverse and changing population of students.  The answer is clear.  Those who choose to innovate must be bold and willing to challenge existing assumptions, programs, and structures.  No more business as usual!

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