Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Raising the Stakes and Broadening the Scope of Analytics (2)

Yesterday’s blog suggested that the current financial crisis had “raised the stakes and broadened the scope of analytics” that are needed to help address the following challenges:

Reducing the Total Cost of Learning. Increasing the size of Pell Grants and assuring that learners and their families have access to financial aid are necessary actions to improve affordability. However, these measures are not sufficient to solve the affordability problem. The rate of increase in tuition is likely to continue to exceed the rate of inflation for many, if not most institutions. This especially true in the short term, given the gaping holes in institutional budgets left by funding cutbacks for state institutions and endowment income reductions for the privates.

Individual institutions can reduce the total cost of achieving targeted certificates or degrees by attaining greater efficiency and effectiveness in degree planning, course availability, and use of online learning options to fill gaps and enable students to finish certificates and degrees on time. Many are doing this now; they will need to redouble their efforts.

Some families will require even more: accelerated degree completion through compressed schedules or high school/college programs such as early college high school, dual/concurrent enrollment, and/or bridge/pathways programs. The programs bridging into high school need to be part of a fundamental improvement of the middle school and high school experience and the readiness of their graduates for college-level work. Over time many families will get even more serious about such programs, given the current state of family finances. Institutions that are able to offer baccalaureate degrees in three years (or even two years past high school for exceptional students) may achieve a competitive advantage with particular groups of students. Analytics will play a key role in conveying the comparative costs of education and the capacity of students to achieve accelerated completion.

Increasing the Number of College Graduates and Enhancing America’s Competitiveness and Re-establishing Financial Sustainability for Institutions. President Obama has called for the US regaining its international lead in educational rates by 2020; this includes generating five million more community college graduates by 2020. This is a huge proposed leap, coming at a time when government finances are overextended; moreover, institutional finances are depleted and their energies diverted into short-term coping strategies. Even community colleges, the recipients of the Presidents attention and financial largesse, are finding themselves flooded with students, yet many face short-term cuts as a result of the financial woes of their states/locales.

What Is Financial Sustainability for Colleges and Universities? The patterns and cadences of finance are dramatically different for public and private institutions. For private institutions, sustainability means continuing to offer a perceived value proposition that justifies their tuition level (recognizing discounting) in comparison with other providers (public institutions, for-profits). For public institutions, sustainability means both competing with other providers on value and developing the capacity to weave together a mercurial combination of tuition, public funding, and other revenues, always dealing with the roller coaster ride of unpredictable public finance during booms and recessions.

In order to lift out of recession and achieve the gains in degree output advocated by President Obama, a new vision for financial sustainability will need to be articulated – and provided for. Analytics will be key in articulating, describing and monitoring the state of institutional finance and supporting the capacity of the public comparatively to evaluate institutional value propositions

In a July 16 column in The Boston Globe, Joseph Aoun, President of Northeastern University, asked the penetrating question: “Is higher education ready to accommodate – and graduate – millions of additional students?” His answer: “No, not without diversification of the current model, including growth in for-profits, no-frills universities, flexible degree programs, and more online offerings.”

Creating Greater Flexibility, More Choices, New Mechanisms, Structures, and Networks for Perpetual Learning and Competence Building. The new vision for institutional sustainability must include a substantial commitment to cheaper, better options. This will include greater flexibility, more choices, “no frills” options and differential fees to reflect these choices, and the capacity of relatively low-cost public institutions to accommodate the bulk of the possible tidal wave of new learners. Traditional colleges and universities that wish to participate in this learning bulge will need to develop their capacity for flexibility and reinvention.

Moreover, new approaches are required to deconstruct existing learning experiences, courses and degrees so that entry-level learners can acquire sufficient learning to enter the workforce even more rapidly, then complete their learning while employed. For such learners, completing a course or two, gaining a job based on that learning, then completing an associates degree while employed is today's model. New, green career pathways for such entry-level workers need to emerge from current stimulus funding.

Finally, new, community-of-practice-based learning models are emerging to support networks meeting the perpetual learning and competence building needs of adults who are combining work and learning, every day. These networks are deploying the social networking, collaboration, and analytic tools of Web 2.0. The vast majority of continuous learning experiences in the economy could benefit from these sorts of ongoing networks. These competence networks will involve traditional colleges and universities, hospitals, business enterprises, and other community organizations. But the culture of these networks will differ dramatically from traditional institutions. They will be fast, fluid, flexible, and affordable. They will require different sorts of performance metrics and descriptive dashboards.Over time, such network communities will dominate the market for adult learning. My colleague Paul Lefrere and I have coined the term Competence 2.0 ® to describe this phenomenon, which we will explore at greater lengths in future blogs.

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