Higher ed takes center stage at SXSWedu

Leaders focused on innovation

Higher education leaders took to the stage in seven-minute increments at SXSWedu in Austin this week to share thoughts, advice, and predictions about the industry.

Topics ranged from new student demographics, to the definition of affordability, to changing delivery methods—and all included the need to innovate. 

Build on earlier innovations

U.S. Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell discussed ongoing innovations of how to measure student learning, breaking away from time and space requirements, and awarding smaller learning certifications, such as micro-credentialing.

"We have the best colleges and universities in the world, but as a system, we're radically underperforming," Mitchell says. "We're not going to solve the problems … by doing the same thing, the same way, over again."

Continued innovation in these three areas is especially important when it comes to supporting the "new normal" student who balances work, family, and school.

Look ahead, not at what came before

Arizona State University President Michael Crow urged the crowd to focus on progress—but to keep knowledge at the center of their new models and enterprises.

This "fifth wave" of education must be adaptive, innovative, and scalable, he says. It should:

  • Serve individual learners who study on campus;
  • Serve individual learners who study online;
  • Function with massive, open scaling;
  • Include learning environments and education through exploration; and
  • Be adaptive to new innovations yet to come.

Colleges must get better at sharing ideas

Executive Director of the University Innovation Alliance Bridget Burns urged colleges and universities to develop better ways of transferring ideas between themselves.

Nail down a definition of 'affordability'

What "affordability" actually means varies from policymaker to policymaker and administrator to administrator, says Lumina Foundation Strategy Director Zakiya Smith.

The industry needs one uniform definition, Smith says. She proposes Lumina's "Rule of 10," which states that students should not pay more than 10% of their discretionary income for 10 years, and work at most 10 hours per week while going to school.

Diversity goes beyond skin color

To properly support students, colleges should look at more than just religious, racial, gender identification, and sexuality orientation diversity, says Candace Thille, a Stanford University Graduate School of Education assistant professor.

Personalized learning systems that collect student data will enable schools to better serve future students based on diversity in relevant skills, background knowledge, and future goals, says Thille.

However, educators must ensure the collected data is diverse too, otherwise it may perpetuate inequality rather than combat it.

Leveraging data also helped Georgia State University double its graduation rate. The school redesigned its math courses to include adaptive learning and introduced broad "meta-majors" to cut down on the number of students who change majors and extend their time to graduation.

Embrace digital delivery

At Jackson State University, a cyber-learning initiative lowered textbook costs by 90% by providing students with iPads and digital content access through various partnerships. Additionally, an incentive structure led departments to pass those savings on to students and to students moving more quickly through content.

Tackle bureaucracy

The University of Texas at Austin's Project 2021 aims to revamp freshman and sophomore experiences for undergraduates. The program focuses on altering how classes are taught, how research is done, and student involvement (Riddell, EducationDive, 3/8).


Research Brief

Incentivizing Innovation

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Public scrutiny of college affordability isn't just driven by tuition

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