Sometimes I feel like we are the voice of gloom and doom in higher education. We don’t mean to be. Colleges and universities will survive — they are the gateway to a better, more productive life for almost everyone. But they will evolve — the present business model is broken.
So where are the new ideas to make colleges better? Attending a number of recent higher education conferences, I heard a lot of optimistic approaches to higher education — or at least examples of where we need to direct focus to solve problems.
Here’s a few that seemed especially promising:
Make Community College Transitions Easier
Community colleges are the entry point to higher education for a growing number of students every year. But they have a dismal record for helping students achieve their dreams. More than 80 percent of first-time students entering community college intend to achieve a Bachelor’s degree. But only 17 percent of students who start in community college obtain a Bachelor’s degree within six years.
A series of papers published by HCM Strategists looks at ways to help more community college students succeed. Some clear themes emerged.
First, most community college students don’t understand the path to earn a Bachelor’s degree. Advising is minimal, little advice is available on even such basic facts as whether their community college credits will be transferable to a four-year college. Build in advising and give students clear dashboards to achieve their goals.
Many of the older students enrolled in community college have work experience. Competency-based education, which would measure their existing skills and give them credit for them, would be especially popular at community colleges, and perhaps give them a better chance of one day attaining a Bachelor’s degree.
Four-year colleges and universities should be setting up overt partnerships with community colleges. With the demographic plateau in the number of college-age students, community colleges are a great source of non-traditional age students. These students statistically are a much likelier bet to persist to graduation. It is about time many colleges began paying more attention to them.
Class Formats Focused on Engaging Students Seem to be Working
The flipped classroom is one of those pedagogical innovations that makes a lot of sense. But does it work? One professor at Missouri State University has been trying to not only change the way she teaches an entry-level psychology class, but also to measure her students’ progress. So far, it is looking very promising.
Danae Hudson, a psychology professor, still lectures, but first her students take part in small study groups and tune into MyPsychLab, an online portal run by Pearson, before the lecture. Her students have scored as much as 86 percent higher on a standardized test than they scored on the same test under the old read-the-textbook-and-attend-lecture approach. The withdrawal rate from her class is down by more than half, and, as an added bonus, the new approach has cut instructional costs by 27 percent per student.
The key is engaging the student, giving them several points of contact with instructors every week, and varying the ways they are learning, said Hudson.
Make ‘em Laugh
I recommend watching this funny, clever, iconoclastic video from Jacksonville State University about how higher education is changing, and the Core program that this university is pioneering. My favorite part starts at 1:04, with the question: “What’s the solution?”
This level of snark must have made a number of people on campus uncomfortable. But they took a chance, and included it anyway. You want to cut through the clutter? Be edgy while making a point. Showing this level of creativity makes others want to work with you.
Stop Looking to Fail. Look to Succeed.
Young incoming college students are having enough personal crises when they arrive on campuses: Can I make it away from home? Do I have any friends? Did I pick the right major?
Why compound the angst by steering them into survey courses designed to trim the herd rather than to inspire?
Young students are just figuring out who they are, and gaining confidence, said Deirdre M. Mageean, the provost of Cleveland State University. But colleges are destroying it by forcing them into classes they fail.
“How many more STEM students would we have, but they have given up because they failed introductory math?” she said at the Summer Academic Affairs meeting of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. In the not-too-distant past, Cleveland State, like most colleges, would have given freshman a list of required classes that overwhelmed students. “Once students fail one class, they might drop out of college and never come back,” she said.
Instead, why not ease students into college, let them find their bearings and gain confidence, and then take on challenging classes. “We are looking at ways to steer young students away from Introductory Biology before they have settled on a major,” said Mageean. “Because it is a devastating experience for many students.”