I am sitting in the “Program for Presidents and Board Members” at the Higher Learning Commission’s Annual Conference. Over 200 fellow presidents are listening to challenging and provocative presentations on the future of higher education. Terry Hartle from ACE told us that the goals of federal education policy are changing from access to access AND completion. He also shared the signal that gainful employment is gaining ground, especially with respect to community colleges, as a measure of success. He highlighted the new White House College Scorecard that makes public college performance. We heard from Felice Nudelman on the coming MOOCS wave and how to surf it. Sylvia Manning asked us to engage on what form the federal higher ed reauthorization act should take.
City Colleges of Chicago are ahead of the curve with respect to access and completion. The Chancellor has made these goals explicit since she started, and we are tracking and actively working to improve our completion rates. We are on track with gainful employment as we implement our College to Careers initiative.
MOOCS present a disruptive force to all of higher education. Felice Nudelman said they are in version 1.0, still working to figure out what viable business models may look like. How do students obtain credentials through MOOCS that schools and employers will accept as valid signals of content or knowledge mastery? We have work to do regarding the reconcilement of our Center for Distance Learning offerings to the emerging MOOCS model. At the same time, we should work with industry partners to understand what mix of online and classroom instruction will meet their needs as we prepare our students for jobs. On the academic side, I see many more discussions with our transfer institutions as we jointly work through how to incorporate MOOCS courses into our students’ education path.
Finally, there was much discussion of Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. We can expect increased focus on completion and retention. Member of Congress will want completion rates to trigger accreditation actions. Student learning outcomes will receive increased focus. “Academically Adrift” is getting a lot of visibility in Washington, D.C. A meme gaining ground on Capitol Hill is that students are not learning much because they are not working hard. Affordability and student debt is also a major point of discussion. Transparency, based on an assumption that institutions are not providing enough information to families, will prompt discussion on what additional information we ought to provide. Much of these efforts will take hold through changes to what accreditation is charged to accomplish.
The one thing clear from these discussions is that change is coming at us fast. It is likely to be disruptive to all aspects of our operating model. It will require more transparency, accountability, and creativity. Felice Nudelman offered advice I took to heart. Figure out what your sacrosanct core is, and then work through how to deliver on that core. That may require radical rethinking of models for delivery, but these changes should enrich student learning.