Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Where’s The Innovation? Part 2

Where’s The Innovation? Part 2  
Since 1970, there has been a steady progression of alternative forms of higher education, different ways of assessing learning, and efforts to improve the portability of educational credentials throughout life. So, when Jeff Selingo asks “Where Will the Innovation Begin?” in his Chronicle of Higher Education article on October 21st, the story of these reforms and their collective impact can be seen as a cautionary tale.  Collectively, they give the lie to any assertion that change is not possible. What their existence illuminates, precisely because they have not been duplicated in any serious way, is the quality and durability of the resistance to serious change inherent in our historic “system” of higher education.
RioSalado Community College (RSCC) and The Community College of Vermont (CCV). Established in the mid-‘70s by the visionary Paul Elsner as a stand-alone institution in the Maricopa county community college district, RSCC has operated for over thirty years through learning centers and as a non-campus institution. Drawing the vast majority of their faculty from form the part-time ranks and focusing on technology-enhanced delivery and learning outcomes, RSCC is an educational and economic model there to be duplicated. Equally so, the Community College of Vermont. Operating online and through learning centers strategically placed around rural Vermont to enhance access, and drawing on part-time faculty for their teaching, CCV now serves more Vermonters every year than any other institution in the state. And with a pipeline to the Vermont State Colleges External Baccalaureate Degree program, any Vermont adult can negotiate their way to a BA without quitting work or substantially altering their way of life.
ThomasEdison State College (TESC) and Excelsior College (EC). These are not only fully accredited colleges, but they share an important distinction. They are both “transcribing” colleges, committed, as is WesternGovernor’s University, to giving each learner as much advanced placement (credit awarded towards the attainment of the degree) as he or she can successfully claim through testing or other ways of validating the learning.  For example, they will accept CLEP test credit, Serviceman’sOpportunity College credit, and ACE-validated credit as well as using portfolios to validate experiential learning. These “learning and learner-friendly” policies and programs are there to be duplicated. They are cost-effective, efficient and great education practice. And yet, many other institutions still largely ignore their model and their practices because they lie outside the conventional mainstream of traditional higher education.
KaplanUniversity (KU) and The University of Maryland University College (UMUC). Although newer on the scene than the institutions mentioned above, KU and UMUC make the case, in both the proprietary and non-profit world, for robust, scalable high quality online programs with learning centers at the BA and MA levels. UMUC offers a global outreach, offering online programs in dozens of countries. And, while a unit of the University of Maryland, they operate independently in terms of academic decision-making and decisions like tenure, which they do not offer. KU exhibits a nimbleness and flexibility, both in program and policy that allows them to stay up with market changes on the one hand while improving student services and support on the other. So, as the learning outcomes movement has gained credence and velocity recently, KU was able to re-design all of their courses to include course-level learning outcomes in both professional, general studies, and liberal arts areas. Although it is true that there is more and more on-line learning, too often it is offered piece-meal, as an expensive extra instead of as a core offering. And using the consistency which media-based learning provides to gather metrics on the learning and teaching going on is an even rarer event.
These six examples are intended to do one thing: illustrate the range (and this is only a small sample) of innovations already in play and proven in America today. They are there for all to see and use as they look into amending their models and trying different innovative practices to solve budgetary or educational effectiveness problems. Next week, I will write about some emerging innovations which have the capacity to actually disrupt the higher education landscape from one of campus-constrained scarcity to community-based abundance.

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