Monday, August 24, 2009

Reimagining Higher Education Based on Value

Necessity is the mother of invention. Today’s recession is stoking the fires of innovation across American higher education. It is also rekindling fires around ideas and models that have been on the table for years.

Institutions are rethinking how to create “no-frills,” or “value-designed” options that could appeal to some of their current student populations, to some students that currently choose other institutions, or to potential learners who at present cannot attend higher attention at all. Other leaders are attempting new “open campus” models that address value propositions that are not being addressed by any institutions, and faculty models that differ from the norm. Western Governors University has followed a competency-based, value-focused model to reinvent faculty and roles and relationships. Many community colleges and neighboring four-year public universities are closely collaborating to create more affordable, flexible options for their learners. Institutions like the University of Central Florida are parlaying multiple campus sites, online and hybrid learning, and creative scheduling into greater capacity for learners to reduce their need to come to campus.

These are just first steps. How long before institutions or groups of institutions can string together a variety of these value-enhancing solutions? Can institutions really reimagine a constellation of value propositions, differentiated for different publics, and priced differentially as well?

“No Frills” Offerings for Arizona State University. At the WACUBO Business Management Institute, I engaged in a conversation Dr. Mernoy Harrison, Vice President and Executive Vice Provost at Arizona State University. He reports that he is working on planning efforts to flesh out “The Colleges at ASU,” a so-called no-frills alternative.

The Arizona Board of Regents is hearing proposals from the three current state universities (Arizona State University, University of Arizona, and Northern Arizona University) to open low-cost college campuses across the state. These smaller, cheaper, “no frills” colleges will be yet another option for Arizona high school graduates.

Dr. Harrison says they are exploring the components of “The Colleges” and how to assemble them in a fashion that will appeal to potential learners and be financially viable. The facilities would need to be provided by the local communities, and the campuses would offer a limited range of undergraduate degrees taught by instructional faculty. The Colleges would be designed to provide the highest probability of success, charging tuition of around $5,800 a year, the most students can receive from the Federal Pell Grant Program. Around 15,000 Arizonans graduate from high school every year who are capable of going on to college, but do not do so for various reasons. The Colleges could appeal to these students.

As the conceptual and programmatic designs for The Colleges emerge, it will be interesting to compare them with other “no-frills,” “value-design,” and on-line programs. Will they appeal to the targeted learners? Will they compete with or complement community college offerings? How will the ASU model compare with approaches followed by the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University?

Value-Designed Models of Higher Education - From the Drawing Board to Reality?. The Center for College Affordability and Productivity has been promoting the need for reinvention of higher education since its creation by Dr. Richard Vedder, a consistent critic of higher education’s costliness.

One of the Center’s white papers is noteworthy in this regard. Dr. Vance H. Fried wore “The $7,376 “Ivies”: Value-Designed Models of Undergraduate Education. Dr. Fried explores how to build a value-based college, which he calls the College of Entrepreneurial Leadership and Society (CELS), which would be designed for traditional undergraduate students and be moderately to highly selective in its academic standing.

CELS would offer a broad curriculum that would provide student with appropriate technical skills in entry-level jobs, potential to be general manager of a small organization early in their career, an understanding of “the big picture,” and foundational skills and knowledge for life outside of work. CELS would also include on-campus developmental experiences, but would be carefully constructed to offer its designed value proposition. Costing out this offering, for a campus/college of 3,200 students, Dr. Fried estimates an operating cost of $6,705 per student (not including room and board), including a laptop computer for every student. His model is dramatically less expensive than liberal arts colleges ($21,000-$46,600) and public regional colleges ($12,000). Dr. Fried provides detailed descriptions of the program and cost elements and assumptions behind his figures.

Dr. Fried makes it clear that other value-add models are possible. Some students may wish “no frills” options that exclude socialization and developmental experiences (which CELS includes) or focus on other disciplinary offerings.

Of course, these are hypothetical models, and the difficulties lie in the details. It would be unacceptable to many learners to have their choices limited to a particular programmatic focus. But there will likely be cohorts of students that would find variations on this model to be very attractive – and affordable.

Could existing or new institutions learn from and adapt this model? Could existing institutions create such a model as a separate college within its institutional structure without altering the current institutional “brand?” Would such an alternative be seen as lower quality? Could institutions faced with such brand dilution use direct certification of competence to trump such concerns? Could they then use such tools in their mainstream offerings?

Western Governors University: Competence-Based and Deconstructucting the Academic Model. Another example is Western Governors University, described in an earlier blog. WGU has deconstructed and reconstructed the higher education model. First and foremost, it is based on a competence model; learners must demonstrate competence through mastery of topics before advancing. And credit can be given for competences learned in other settings and demonstrated to WGU's satisfaction. Second, it creates a new model for faculty reoles and responsibilities. Every 80 students have a Ph.D. faculty mentor whose full-time job is to guide, direct, counsel, coach, encourage, motivate, and keep students on track. Engaging course materials, interaction with other learners, assessment of competences, and other features are handled by technology-based resources. Learners can also achieve credit for competences acquired through prior learning and demonstrable. WGU’s per semester tuition, which covers its total costs, is slightly less than $3,000.

Similar models are being utilized by Lamar University and by other for-profit providers, cited in previous blogs. Could existing institutions offer variations on the WGU approach to extend their offerings into a lower-price, on-line format? Could they license WGU content, competence-assessment tools, and other procedures to create online learning to offer to current students who cannot get the courses they need to graduate on time or who wish to accelerate their graduation? Would direct demonstration of competence trump issues of “quality?” Could institutions successfully introduce multi-tier pricing?

Oregon Open Campus: An Interesting Constellation of PArtners. In 2009 Oregon Open Campus was created as a partnership among Oregon State University (including its Extension Division), the Association of Oregon Counties, and many of Oregon’s community colleges, K-12 education systems, and local businesses. The Open Campus is looking to expand its circle of participation to include hospitals, libraries, community action programs and other entities that had something to offer this extended community. Each new community place will became another node for Oregonians to experience elements of the Oregon Open Campus and make their own contributions.

Oregon Open Campus’ founding principle and goal is to provide local access to learning and developmental experiences that meet the needs of individuals, families, businesses, and communities. Workforce training, professional certification, personal enrichment, and academic credit are only a few of the possibilities. Community problem solving, applied research and commercialization, and leveraging learning and knowledge sharing for economic development purposes are several of the other possibilities.

The operational details and programs of Open Campus are under development. But the planners are dedicated to discovering a model that is a dramatic departure from existing practices. Will this be possible? How will it affect the existing models at participating institutions? What new features will be needed to make it work in a financially sustainable way.

Partnerships Between Public Universities and Community Colleges. Another strategic approach to control costs is utilized by public universities like George Mason University, which collaborates closely with Northern Virginia Community College. In planning for Mason’s new Loudoun County campus, on which NVCC would be co-located, the assumption was that all lower division offerings would be provided by NVCC, because of its affordable cost/price structure. Moreover, planners assumed that the square footage of the facilities would probably be half of what was today considered normal for a particular level of enrollment, say 10,000 students, due to the use of online and hybrid learning options. In addition, Mason’s leadership are evaluating other ways in which offerings can be reinvented to deal with student affordability and convenience issues.

Several questions remain. As Mason and NVCC plan to serve the burgeoning needs of Northern Virginia, how can they leverage their different price points and service models to create attractive value propositions that will serve a tidal wave of new students? How can bridging and pathways programs into the K-12 schools be used to create even better value propositions? And ramped up to scale?

On-Campus, On-Line, and Hybrid: What Is Your Personal Learning Mixture? The University of Central Florida is an excellent example of an institution that offers its students a wide range of course-taking options. To start, UCF offers a range of learning locations: its original flagship campus, adjacent to its 1,200-acre research park, 11 regional campuses, many of which are located on the campuses of local community colleges, plus substantial online learning and hybrid/blended learning options. The upshot is that individual students can sculpt a learning schedule that combines modes and reduces/shapes the need to come to campus. Some students combine all of these options. What is the value of reduced gridlock to a busy working student who can come to campus just once a week? And what is the value to UCF of being able to leverage the use of its physical facilities on its traffic-challenged main campus, extending enrollments far beyond what could be served if students were coming to main campus three days a week – or more?

Metropolitan and suburban universities are the epicenter of inventiveness for new value propositions for several reasons: 1) they are "where the learners are," expecially in hypergrowth metropolitan areas; 2) public colleges and universities in these settings are being expected to absorb the tidal waves of new learners; 3) they represent a wide range of learner cohorts from highly traditional learners to millenial experimenters to working adults; and 4) the time and financial cost of commuting is such a factor that innovations such as those implemented by UCF, and GMU, and ASU can povide tremendous value that is seized upon by learners.

UCF has an impressive analytics and data mining operation to support its combination of learning modes. Its leaders know what works in different modes and how satisfied students are with different modes and combinations. How could this capability be turned to even more sophisticated assessments of its value propositions and “sculpting” of the value propositions to meet the diversity of learner needs?

Elevating Community College to Grant Four-Year Degrees. Yet another option is being followed in a number of states across the nation, where community colleges are being elevated to four-year status. This is also a clear indicator of how seriously state policy makers are concerned by the need to reimagine value propositions in higher education.

In Florida, for example, many community colleges are electing this option, dropping “Community” from their titles. So Miami Dade Community College has become Miami Dade College. With eight campuses and over 167,000 students from across the world, the College offers over 300 programs of study and several degree options, including vocational, associate, and baccalaureate degrees. MDC features numerous community education classes, credit classes through the Virtual College, the New World School of the Arts, and Dual Enrollment.

Whether the elevation of community colleges to baccalaureate-producing institutions will dramatically affect value propositions and cost options remains to be seen.

Remembering Transforming Higher Education. In 1995, Michael G. Dolence and I wrote Transforming Higher Education: A Vision for Learning in the 21st Century, in which we suggested that higher education would need to “realign, redesign, redefine, and reengineer” to meet the learning needs and differing value propositions of 21st century global society. We observed that the tidal wave of new students in the United States and globally could not be met by traditional means and methods, “…to meet the full potential demand by the year 2010, a campus would need to be opened every 8 days. Even if this demand were served by a mixture of higher education and other learning intermediaries, the cost under existing approaches to education finance would be exhorbitant.”

In large measure this prediction has come true. Our financial model for addressing learning needs is inadequate, and rather than having the luxury of time to solve this problem, we must address it in real time and with limited resources – the coffers of public and private finance are drained.

Transforming Institutions in a Differenting and Selective Manner. How can existing institutions – especially public universities – reimagine their delivery mechanisms and experiences to offer learners a variety of experiences, with different value expectations – and different price points? What incentive, support, guidance and prodding do they need from state higher education organizations and national government and associations?

Stay tuned for continuing discussion on this topic.

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