There are radical models in higher education worth examining that challenge the conventional model of undergraduate education; the traditional model representing a four-year on-campus program that includes instruction by faculty or teaching assistants, institution-determined course selections guided by the credit-hour formula, transcripts with GPA calculations, etc. Yet there are countless articles and posts that cry out for reformed models of higher education, even more that provide suggestions and remedies. Yet there are few models in practice that offer face-to-face education experiences that are truly transformational. However, I suggest the four models presented here are worth pondering; two created from scratch, and two that changed within an existing framework.
To reiterate, the institutions discussed here are not virtual schools, each provides face-to-face undergraduate learning experiences where technology is leveraged to facilitate learning. The schools are also committed to teaching foundational subjects—courses from the humanities, yet each provides unique learning experiences that challenge the traditional model in some way. Each institution takes a different approach, though all encourage learners to choose a learning path, to be self-directed, to follow their interests, and establish their own learning goals. All seek to engage young people in learning, prepare students to think critically and to guide them to find their passion.
Why We Should Be Interested
Why should educators concern themselves with considering non-traditional models of higher education; models that appear far-fetched and irrelevant? It’s becoming apparent that the current model needs to change, and change for several reasons. First, the majority of existing models at four-year higher education institutions are not sustainable. For the past two years we have heard about the bubble of higher ed, the rising costs that are pricing college education out of reach for many. It’s coming true as predicted. According to a report described in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 28 percent of public institutions, compared with 15 percent the year before, expect declines in their net-tuition revenue. Already several private institutions have taken drastic measures in response to declining revenue as reported in Inside Higher Ed. Second, the four institutions described here offer a different perspective on education; a lens that provides a glimpse into what higher education might look like in the future—food-for-thought. Third, some argue that there is a gap in what the current higher education institutions offer students; not only are many students excluded from higher education for a variety of reasons, but there is a lack of preparation for students to be effective as a post-graduate. Many are ill-equipped to find meaningful work in the knowledge and global economy.
Education Needs to Adapt to the ‘Big Shift’
Change is hard to do, and not just for higher ed. Deloitte’s Center for the Edge for the past three years has published a report that describes the ‘Shift Index‘ which provides metrics that signal changes in order for institutions and organizations to identify long-term trends, and plan accordingly. What is interesting is how applicable the content of the 2011 report is to higher education. The full 2011 report is here, but one interesting fact applicable to higher education is this—”the price/performance capability of computing, storage, and bandwidth is driving an adoption rate for our new “digital infrastructure” that is two to five times faster than previous infrastructures, such as electricity and telephone networks.” Furthermore, it appears individuals (i.e. students) are having a far easier time keeping up with the changes than are the institutions and organizations. It is far more challenging for organizations to remain nimble, yet still quite necessary. The point is, there are significant implications with the Big Shift we are experiencing, and it’s consumer, student, employee, life-long learner behaviours and their adoption of technology that will shape institutions, organizations and businesses of the future. It will be organizations [i.e. higher education institutions] that adapt and harness the new “knowledge flows” that will be successful, and “doing so will require significant institutional innovations” (Kulasooriya, Brown & Hagel, 2011).
Below I provide a summary of each the four schools, and highlight why each is radical in context of conventional higher education. Though there are other higher education institutions implementing new models, many embracing technology and responding to the needs of students, the four presented here were chosen because of the uniqueness and diversity.
1) Quest University Canada. I heard Quest University’s Vice-Chancellor, David Helfand speak at a conference in November where he described the school he founded. Quite remarkable. Quest started with its first class in 2007 with 73 students. Classes are small. There are no lectures, but all classes are seminar-discussion format. All students complete the same foundational courses in the first two years that cover the humanities, math and sciences, yet the latter two years are unique and individual learning paths chosen and directed by the student. The selection process for professors is most unusual, and all work in an open office where there is no separation by academic schools or disciplines. Why it’s radical: there are no grades; students receive check marks to indicate if they are engaged in learning. The study path for the last two-years of the undergraduate degree program is a unique learning path chosen by each student based upon his or her personal interest/passion. Quest at a glance.
2) Liverpool John Moores University, United Kingdom. Founded in 1825 started as a Polytechnic, and in 1992 the school became Liverpool John Moores University, one of the UK’s new generation universities. This is a research university, that launched ‘a globally unique model of higher education that stresses work-related learning and ‘skill development in tandem with effective employer engagement’. Why it’s radical: the university’s program, World of Work is a support and skill development program for all students that involves involvement and input from national and international employers and business experts. Students not only gain work experience with top companies, but students develop a skill-set labeled World of Work skills. Students abilities are also verified through an employer-validated Skills Statement and interview during their undergraduate course of study. More info here.
3) University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Australia. UTS is one of the largest universities in Australia and aims to be a world leader in technology education. The focus is on global, practice-oriented learning where students undertake research, professional and community work experiences. It is heavily focused on collaborative learning that integrates institutional research. Why it’s radical: the hands-on learning approach beginning in first-year of study, and the school’s updated learning strategy for 2014 includes student-generated learning goals, personalized learning paths that integrates online sources, faculty feedback, and development of a personal learning network using digital platforms and tools (three-minute video clip that describes the approach: UTS 2014). UTS undergraduate information.
4) Minerva Project, United States. I hesitated to include the Minerva Project here, as this school has long been in the planning phases, and has only just begun to enroll students. However, even if it doesn’t work in this format, it’s worth examining. Conceptualized by Ben Nelson, former chief executive Snapfish the online photo printing site, Minerva seeks to be an ivy league institution with tuition fees that undercut elite US universities by half while guaranteeing students an education based not in one location, but in six of the cities around the world. Why it’s radical: it’s ambitious—not only does it seek to compete the Ivy Leagues, but provides education in brick and mortar classrooms in cities in different countries. It will leverage technology by encouraging students to access content and resources online, i.e. MOOCs but still include face-to-face interaction. By its very nature, it’s an education in globalization. More here.
As highlighted, the schools examined here and the respective models, provide insight into what can be done in higher education to address the Big Shift as described by the Deloitte Center. Though radical as they may seem, each provides a glimpse into how face-to-face undergraduate education is adapted to provide relevant and effective education for a global and digital world.
- Global experts in higher education propose new university model to improve funding and competitiveness, IE University
- A new model needed for higher education, University World News
- Are Colleges Ready to Adjust to a New Higher Education Landscape, Scott Carlson, The Chronicle of Higher Education
- The 2011 Shift Index: Measuring the Forces of Long-Term Change, John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Duleesha Kulasooriya, Deloitte Center for the Edge
- Private Distress, Ry Rivard, Inside Higher Ed
- College bubble bursts after decades of extravagance, Michael Barone, AEI
- Reforming Higher Education in India: Quest for Global Standards, Sudhanshu Tripathi
- Abelard to Apple and the Future of Higher Ed, Online Learning Insights