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Reinventing Higher Education: The Editors Speak

At a forum held this morning in Washington, DC, by the marketing and communications firm Lipman Hearne, the three editors of the recently released book Reinventing Higher Education: The Promise of Innovation discussed key findings from the essays it contains.

Ben Wildavsky, Senior Fellow in Research and Policy at the Kauffman Foundation, began by noting that increased the increased demand for and importance of higher education combined with a highly constrained resource environment has created a context in which innovation in higher education has become essential. He also reviewed some of the barriers to such innovation that will have to be overcome if higher education is to serve more students while improving learning outcomes and college completion. Besides state and federal fiscal problems, barriers mentioned include accreditation systems that fail to effectively address learning outcomes, the traditional academic culture, and the unmanaged, unplanned transformation of the professoriate into an increasingly adjunct workforce. The latter was raised not as a defense of tenure, but rather as a failure to thoughtfully consider what appropriate structures beyond tenure might be.

Andrew Kelly, Research Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, then cited examples of innovation raised in the book to indicate the shape that an innovation agenda for higher education might take, focusing on three areas: the delivery of courses and programs; the professoriate; and rethinking the organization or structure of the institution. He noted how efforts such as the National Center for Academic Transformation, the Open Learning Initiative, and Western Governors University had demonstrated the potential for online learning and competency-based assessment to change the cost and effectiveness of higher education delivery. He discussed the ways in which some institutions, particularly on the for-profit side, were linking faculty retention and promotion to student learning outcomes, but also providing rigorous professional development opportunities in relation to such demands. And Kelly highlighted institutions such as Rio Salado Community College as examples of how some colleges and universities were recasting their academic calendars and program delivery models to facilitate student access to learning opportunities. He indicated that the frontier for higher education innovation might be increased partnerships between for-profit and non-profit providers to increase the capacity of the latter to offer courses and programs relevant to workforce needs.

To further illustrate the theme of institutional restructuring as a path to higher education innovation, Kevin Carey, Policy Director at Education Sector, presented the case of the University of Minnesota–Rochester. He discussed how the institution was launched in the last few years with relatively minimal investment from the state and a focus on a single degree program—a bachelor’s in health sciences—of relevance to a major area employer, the Mayo Clinic. The editors agreed that this type of highly specialized institution was not a model for all of higher education—a diversity of institutions and institutional missions would and likely should continue to be the norm. However, they also agreed that elements of the university’s success, such as rethinking the need to build and operate an extensive physical plant and student life facilities, had relevance to a variety of institutions based on their core missions.


Wow what an interesting topic for a book. I am currently in a course called Understanding Institutions: Organizational Behavior and Cultures. In the class we have studied topics similar to the essays included in the book Reinventing Higher Education. Reading about a book addressing the same issues that I have just studied is confirmation of my attendance in the graduate program I am a part of. I absolutely love this program and have been following EduCause a part of the completion of a requirement in my current course. Thanks Jarrett for exposing the many topics you posted on your blog I have truly enjoyed following your blog through EduCause for the past eight weeks.

Thanks, Pamela. I'm glad my blog posts have been both interesting and helpful to your studies. Best of luck with your degree!

A huge thanks to all who responded to my questions about mass email policy. I got lots of really good policies and ideas and all the evidence I need to draft something for consideration here.
What a resource to have when answers are needed quickly!!

Randy Gaines
Chief Information Officer
Idaho State University
Leading in opportunity and innovation
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