Monday, May 16, 2011

Another Sign that The Times, They Are A'Changin (with apologies to Bob Dylan)

I flew into San Francisco last night to attend the Western Interstate Committee for Higher Education (WICHE) annual meeting. I am part of the meeting, speaking at their luncheon on my book, "Harnessing America's Wasted Talent", today, which explains my presence. But the remarkable thing is that WICHE, led by their President, David Longanecker, is focusing the bulk of the meeting on what they have termed the "Other" institutions: innovative, online, proprietary, and alternative to the norm of American Higher Education. So the 70 + WICHE Commissioners, staff, and others are spending their time learning about institutions and programs that are organized to benefit from the rapidly changing and expanding "New Ecology of Learning" driven by web 2.0, extraordinary evolving IT capacity, new media and social networking.

Present are many players in this new space, representing all sectors: public and private non-profit, and proprietary colleges as well as multiple organizations which out-source critical academic functions. I am currently listening to a presentation by representatives of Western Governors University, American Public University, and Rio Salado Community College. They exemplify the reality that change and the new ecology is not owned by any one sector or model. Indeed, the new ecology and these institutions of the 21st century are characterized, not by sector, but by common characteristics, like a commitment to learning outcomes at the course level.

This afternoon, there will be a panel discussion including representatives from Blackboard, Pearson, and Straighterline, each a company with a strong out-sourcing and innovation components. And later today, we will visit the Nexus Policy Research Center,  a research analytics group for non-traditional learners initially sponsored by the Apollo Group.

And tomorrow, WICHE will launch a discussion about how to grapple with streamlining state regulations among their member states. I believe that the best recent publication that captures the importance of the different elements of this policy discussion is "Beyond Good and Evil", by Michael Horn. It can be found on the American Enterprise Institute website. .Horn's other seminal article, "Disrupting College", is available on the Center for American Progress web site.

What does it all mean? I believe that WICHE's bold program signifies the move of these models and modalities for teaching and learning from the back rooms of american higher education's policy discussion to center stage. We need them out in the light because there is no way to reach the ambitious goals set by President Obama and echoed by the Gates and Lumina Foundations using the traditional system only. And with them in the bright sunshine, We will be free to engage in the only conversation that matters: the quality of the teaching, the results of the learning, and the attainments of the learners themselves. For multiple risk-factor learners, the goal should not be sector-specific but consistent, reliable, and valid learning results across the board. In other words, quality.

Peter Smith
Senior Vice President,
Academic Strategies & Development

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