Monday, August 17, 2009

Disruptive and Dislodging Events in Higher Education – Today and Tomorrow (2)

The last blog discussed how disruptive and dislodging events could trigger change across clusters of institutions in higher education. This entry takes the conversation a step further by exploring how current disruptive forces in education, the economy, and the governmental response could dislodge the status quo and unleash transformative change.

Dislodging Event #1: A multi-faceted injection of federal assistance in the community colleges, contingent on innovation and changing practices. President Obama’s proposal to raise community college enrollments by 5 million is key to his overall plan to restore America to global leadership in college degree completion by 2020. Policy proposals that directly or indirectly support community colleges include increases in Pell Grant funding, a new proposed “American Opportunity Tax Credit,” the Community College Partnership Program, the DREAM Act, Workforce Education Legislation, and a proposed “Make College a Reality” initiative that will increase by 50% the number of high-school students taking college-level credit.

President Obama’s proposal to spend $9B in grants to community colleges will come with strings attached. Applicants would have to set goals tied to program completion, work force preparation, and job placement, much in the fashion of Achieving the Dream. The previously mentioned recommendation to invest $500 M in open educational resources (“Obama’s Course Giveaway”) would spur innovative applications in the community colleges and their bridging/pathways/concurrent enrollment programs with high school. These could result in improved retention, decreasing time to degree, and reduction in the total cost of education. They are critical to reducing remediation needs of entering community college students.

The community colleges are currently facing a tidal wave of new students due to the impact of the recession and students unable to afford four-year colleges or seeing the community college as a high-value alternative. Rufus Glasper, Chancellor of Maricopa Community College, says they are confronting enrollment leaps of 40% at the same time that tax revenue supporting their operation is in jeopardy. Many of the new federal resources will go to students or will be insufficient to counter increases in student enrollments and declines in public tax support. As a result, community college leadership will need to deploy new, even more flexible, technology-supported approaches that reduce or control costs and create even better value propositions. In an environment of dramatically increasing enrollment and public attention, community college faculty can be engaged to refine work rules and bargaining agreements and achieve financial sustainability.

Put simply, community colleges will become increasing important in lifting out of recession. They should be a focal point for disrupting and dislodging actions.

Dislodging Event #2: Federal K-12 transformation initiatives spark innovation and change practices, in ways that span K-20. In a similar view, investment of federal dollars in K-12, tied to innovation as a condition for funding, can dislodge current behaviors and barriers to change. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has announced a $4.3 B “Race to the Top” Fund that will apply rigorous standards for states applying for these grants, including a fine-grained evaluation process under which the states get points for reforms they have made and changes they promise to make – and conditional funding that will be revoked if they don’t achieve them. The system also requires states to craft systems that better evaluate teacher performance, taking student achievement into account. States must also assure that poor and minority students get their share of high-quality teachers.

An important part of this process is replacing the crazy quilt of state-owned performance standards by a coherent national standard, so whatever the state’s chosen practices are, they can be measured against a single, globally competitive standard. States that have committed to actions – such as joining the standards commission established by the National Governors Association - will be favored in the competition as will states that develop plans for internationally benchmarked K-12 standards that build toward college and career readiness.

Interventions like Race to the Top, fresh funding, and public pressure are likely to spur states to innovate in standards and methods and to redirect existing initiatives in fresh ways. Most states have K-16 or K-20 initiatives to improve transitions and increase performance of the entire K-20 spectrum and these can be redirected. Some states will lead and others will be followers, but the harsh light of scrutiny can be used to move America forward in reinventing K-12 and K-20, clusters of states at a time.

Dislodging Event #3: Declining affordability and disruptive shifts in college attendance patterns, plus continued weakness in state funding for higher education and growing awareness that the current model for public funding of four-year public universities is broken. The Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance released a report in 2008 that contained a troubling statistic: “Between 1992 and 2004, a major shift in enrollment away from public 4-year colleges occurred among college-qualified high school students from low- and moderate-income families…inability to start at a 4-year college decreases considerably the likelihood of earning a bachelor’s degree.” Bear in mind the troubling fact that this decline occurred BEFORE the recent economic events that have truly hammered family finances.

Another fact point: over the past 20 years, public universities have experienced a roller coaster of rising and falling state appropriations (per student). Good economic times enabled gains when state treasuries were full, but recessions and declining state resources brought mid-year rescissions and the need to make rapid cut-backs and adjustments. The recent recession is the latest and worst in a series of such adjustments. This is no way strategically to position public institutions for success. This model is broken.

In a speech entitled “Higher Expectations and Fewer Resources: What’s a SHEEO to Do?” at the recent Annual meeting of the State Higher Education Executive Officers, Dennis Jones of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems laid out the collision of high expectations and the limited financial resources available to state higher education leaders. He suggested there was no way to deliver on President Obama’s aspirations to increase the number of college graduates without making significant changes in institutional processes and practices. The money is simply not there – and our levels of per capita expenditures far exceed comparable figures for other nations. Dr. Jones recommended investing stimulus funding to develop more cost effective ways of doing business and paying for the transition. His portfolio of short term actions: Reallocate faculty time to undergraduate courses, collaborate with other institutions and share, and make sure students are getting all aid for which they are eligible. In the longer term, he recommends investing in more efficient administration and plant operations and investing in reengineering curricula and delivery methods – restructure general education, invest in course redesign, and tackle developmental education on a statewide basis.

It’s time to engage university leaders in making these changes. In a speech at the Annual Meeting of the Society for College and University Planning, “Are We Wasting a Perfectly Good Crisis,” George Pernsteiner, Chancellor of the Oregon University System, called for institutional leaders to engage faculty, staff, students, community partners, and business leaders to reinvent themselves and how they do business in order to improve student learning, increase degree production, re-focus research and innovation, and reduce costs. In Oregon, per capita state funding has declined in real terms in 18 of the past 20 years. In this environment, Dr. Pernsteiner thinks faculty may be ready to engage and seriously consider the measures necessary to lift out of the recession. It’s time to engage seriously – and dislodge.

Dislodging Event #4: Open educational resources couple with Web 2.0 tools and practices to create alternatives to traditional higher education and job creation. In the blog “Who Needs Traditional Higher Education and Traditional Job Training?” we already discussed the potential disruptive impact of open resources and web 2.0 tools and practices. If institutions do not change their practices by incorporating these approaches in courses and traditional certificate degree programs, many learners will seek other options. These disruptive and dislodging conversations are already occurring.

The most transformative impact of Learning and Competence 2.0 will be to create “Community of Practice” alternatives to traditional learning. These will enable participants (teaching students, their faculty, and mentors in the schools) to seamlessly blend work and learning, perpetually. For example, one alternative CoP approach to teacher education would engage potential teachers (not just teacher college graduates) in the CoP while they are enrolled in their academic bachelor’s program. They would participate in the CoP during student teaching, continue with heavy mentoring during their first year of teaching, and receive learning on reflective practice during their first five years, resulting in the equivalent of a master’s degree in reflective practice. From then on, they would sustain and refresh the CoP by serving as mentors, reflective practitioners, and reviewers.

Currently, innovators are planning/deploying CoP approaches to continuing professional education in engineering, medicine, and other professions; industry-wide CoPs in areas such as global food safety; and regional open education experiences linking universities, community colleges, businesses, and other community participants. Such examples will further disrupt existing models.

Dislodging event #5: Stimulus money in weatherization catalyzes the evolution of a new, flexible network of green careers pathways and competence building opportunities, which generalizes to other career pathways. The Obama administration is spending billions of stimulus dollars on weatherization programs that are being delivered through community action organizations and their partner organizations - utilities, contractors, and training organizations. President Obama’s intent is for these entry-level jobs to be the beginnings of genuine green careers. But many of the people hired for these positions will be unemployed after the first round of weatherization jobs are done.

The green jobs career ladder is not well defined for these entry-level workers. Nor are high school vocational programs adequate to the task. Even the option of these entry-level workers going to community colleges to receive associate degrees in green career fields is not the best immediate answer for these workers now. These workers need to receive additional, incremental training, while employed, and gradually move up the green career ladder to installation auditor, manager, and supervisors roles. This could include at some point, certificate and associate degree programs from the community college. Then more rigorous technical training in fields like HVAC or wind/solar installation and maintenance, and eventually a bachelor of applied sciences degrees focusing on communication, leadership, team building, and management skills. Or even other combinations. And continuing learning, while working, in a seamless progression. This is a pattern that can be replicated outside its creation point in green careers.

Across the country, a variety of companies, community action agencies, and other enterprises are prototyping new, community-of-practice-based work and learning environments that will support the development of fresh approaches to green career ladders for entry-level workers, while they are employed. They will have the capacity to mash-up learning offerings from wide ranges of providers. These are the equivalent of apprenticeship programs, but apprenticeships that are appropriate to the Web 2.0 age. We will discuss these in future blogs.

Leveraging Disruptions and Dislocations. These disruptive events are all at play, today, and they are intertwined. Over the next few months, their impact will escalate as the impact of stimulus funds affects every one of these five disrupters. Institutional leaders need to “connect the dots”, redirecting existing initiatives, engaging their stakeholders, and getting serious about moving beyond quick fixes to aggressive portfolios of action to harvest efficiencies, innovations, and transformations in the way we do business, K-20 and in learning to work and back again…and again.

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