On June 30, the US Department of Education invited more than 100 college and university administrators and experts, faculty and researchers, policy makers, and funders to “Reimagining Higher Education,” hosted jointly by CNDLS and The Red House. Aimed at bringing together thinkers and doers, this convening focused on designing equity in and access to higher education, with an emphasis on innovation serving low-income and first generation students.
In his opening remarks for the event, CNDLS Executive Director Eddie Maloney spoke of “disruption,” defining it as the entrance of non-university entities into conversations about higher education. Admitting the term was “so 2012,” he called back to fears that the advent of online education would negatively impact traditional education models, then noted that this disruption instead expanded our understanding of the higher education “ecosystem” as one that includes several components—both public and private, institution and industry—interested in improving experiences and outcomes for all students. Maloney then introduced Ajita Menon, Special Assistant to the President for Higher Education, who spoke of White House efforts to sprint to the finish of the current administration, working to lay a strong foundation for education policy before 2017. These efforts were echoed by Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell in announcing a fall convening by the Department of Education designed to spotlight some of the best work being done in higher education and identify the kinds of practices that are showing promise so others in the ecosystem can evaluate and build on them. Of particular note was Mitchell’s call for an attention to the voices and contributors in the room, the experiences they bring to the table, and the critical need to continually ensure that the people building this ecosystem represent the communities for which we’re building.
Under Secretary Mitchell was followed by a virtual panel of students with a varied set of experiences within higher education. Asked to identify the grand challenge facing those in the room, Samuel Chavez, a University of Texas Rio Grande Valley student addressed the barriers to education for illegal immigrants, noting that many in his community have decided that, “if I’m not going to college, why should I even go to school?” David Shibley, a computer programmer who worked toward a college degree before opting into the workforce, talked about discovering the benefits of self-paced, self-directed education when he was introduced to MOOCs, and then his ultimate success in a programming bootcamp once he discovered a field he enjoyed. His advice for the room was to celebrate MOOCs for their flexibility and create programming that is less reliant on general education and more targeted toward student skills and interests. Coni Pasch, a Fortune 500 employee and Capella University graduate, echoed the need for flexible programs that allow students to save both money and time, but also requested credentialing for work experience, not just coursework. Jason Webb, an Air Force veteran and part-time student just two courses shy of a degree at University of Maryland University College, closed out the panel by stating that he never imagined himself as a “fancy person with a college degree,” but now regularly encourages cadets to seek out higher education. His challenge, then, is to change the perception of who can and should pursue higher education, from the affluent to all.
Programming continued with in-person panels on new models for higher education, credentialing, and broader questions of teaching and learning outside of traditional spaces. The first group, comprised of Jake Schwartz (General Assembly), David Quigley (Boston College), Bonny Simi (JetBlue), and Paul Freedman (Entangled Ventures), discussed work being done both on campus and in the workplace to help students match what they’re learning with what the market will ask—or is asking—of them. The second, led by Holly Zanville (Lumina Foundation), Jonathan Finkelstein (Credly), Jason Tyzko (US Chamber of Commerce Foundation), and Carol Quillen (Davidson College), touched on the value of credentials including and beyond the typical four-year degree. The final panel of Craig Roberts (Duke University), Lou Pugliese (Arizona State University), John Mott (Learning Objects), and Melina Uncapher (Stanford) examined the role of universities within a shifting framework of higher education.
The afternoon brought collaborative brainstorming about future educational innovation led by Joseph South and Sharon Leu of the Office of Educational Technology. Groups worked together to provide feedback on the 2016 National Education Technology Plan (NETP), the flagship educational technology policy document for the United States, as well as concrete ideas for the 2017 document. Conversations about the five elements of the NETP—teaching, learning, assessment, infrastructure, and leadership—as well as new models for access and affordability took place in small groups. The day concluded with a sharing out of ideas, as well as closing remarks from Provost Robert Groves, who praised the work being done by all in attendance.
CNDLS is honored to have co-hosted this meeting with the Red House, and is ready to face the coming academic year with a renewed sense of inspiration and excitement about the future of higher education. We’re excited to see these conversations continued at the fall convening!