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Design Thinking and Business Models in Higher Education

A large crowd formed in the center of the ballroom. Institutional leaders were cheering for their teammates. Intense energy and excitement permeated the room.

The final round of Rock, Paper, Scissors was on.

This is how Greg Warman of Experience Point chose to ‘break the ice’ for Breakthrough Models Incubator teams. It readied participants for a rousing half-day Design Thinking session, which incorporated a variety of exercises intended to flex their creative muscles.

Lively discussion turned into scribbled-upon Post-It notes and flipcharts with storyboards. Teams used guided brainstorming techniques to ideate some interesting solutions to complex social problems. Pitches were made and votes were tallied; participants rated each other’s performance and offered insightful feedback.

Here are two great resources for moving your own team through the creative design thinking process:

For more Design Thinking resources and examples of NGLC grant recipients who are using it, visit our Design Thinking Topics page.

Creativity and innovation carried over into a session on higher ed finance later in the week. Rick Staisloff of rpkGROUP introduced teams to pro forma templates—a powerful, concrete way to project and assess student services and supports, and associated revenue and expenses.

Staisloff encouraged participants to examine the following areas, good advice for any team developing new solutions to the problems facing higher education:

  • Enrollment projections: What are your baseline or aspirational estimates for incoming students?
  • Pricing models: Will you use a subscription-based model for online courses, or a flat-fee model for a specific term? What about traditional tuition structures (x per credit hour)?
  • Revenue projection: How does your chosen pricing model translate into recognized revenue for your institution?
  • Expense categories: Have you captured all instructional costs, as well as any associated with coaching/facilitation, academic support, and assessments?

As in many other cases, arriving at important answers starts with asking the right questions.

This week, the face-to-face convening for the 2014 Breakthrough Models Incubator laid the foundation for developing nine new competency-based degree programs. Higher ed leaders’ sense of urgency was also underscored by a recent policy move, as the US Department of Education gave its blessing for experimenting with flexible credit systems, opening up pathways for competency-based education to take root.

Participants in the 2014 Breakthrough Models Incubator will take this experience in Design Thinking and Business Modeling to create new plans for competency-based education programs. In just six months, we look forward to sharing those plans with you! For now, you can read about the institutions and their goals for the Incubator, which we have collected on the Breakthrough Models Incubator Cohort 2 institutions and their goals for the

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