November 21, 2017

ITHAKA’s Next Wave: How Macro Changes in Higher Ed Shape Strategy

ithaka-next-wave-logoFor its 2016 Next Wave conference, scholarly nonprofit organization ITHAKA brought together nearly 200 academic librarians, publishers, technology partners, and scholars at New York’s Roosevelt Hotel on November 30 to take a look at what may lie ahead for academia. “The Bigger Picture: How Macro Changes in Higher Education Should Shape Your Strategy” condensed what had previously been spread over two days into one all-day session, with a strong focus on academic professionals’ take on the landscape.

We are in a “time of great divide,” noted master of ceremonies Jeff Selingo, special advisor at Arizona State University and visiting scholar at Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities, and author most recently of There Is Life After College: What Parents and Students Should Know About Navigating School to Prepare for the Jobs of Tomorrow (William Morrow)—not only between those who can and cannot afford higher education, but also between institutions themselves and what they represent to their constituents. “This era requires us to speak up,” Selingo said, “and present a vision for what the future of higher education should look like.”

CHANGING LANDSCAPE

Keynote speaker Mitchell Stevens, director of the Center for Advanced Research through Online Learning at Stanford University, CA, gave an overview of the ways higher education’s business model has changed over the past 70 years and how this has affected the lay of the land today.

The foundation of the current U.S. higher education system was built between 1945–90, he explained, largely as a result of the government’s investment in science and technology and a general effort to expand on democratic capitalism. College costs were mainly affordable, and institutions had control over their own systems, setting their own educational policies. Much of that had shifted by 2005, however, because of inflation, increasing enrollments, the untethering of instruction from traditional campuses, and a growing uncertainty about state and federal government regulation and funding of higher education.

Stevens offered California’s Bay Area as an example of higher education’s changing landscape. The region is home to institutions such as Stanford, a high-profile private research university with a large endowment; the University of California at Berkeley, a public research university; the University of San Francisco, a Catholic Jesuit institution in the heart of the city; and Foothill College, a community college that serves as a point of entry for international and commuter students; all within an area that Stevens called “one of the sexiest regional economies in the world.” Yet even with this range of academic options, as the number of college-eligible Californians grows there are fewer spots for them—and Silicon Valley continues to import labor from out of the area. If the rules of higher education are going to change, noted Stevens, it’s going to happen there.

Over the course of the day, The Next Wave panelists took a look at how those rules are changing across the country—and how those with a stake in higher education can be ready for those changes.

TRENDS AND PROJECTIONS

Selingo and Stevens, joined by ITHAKA president Kevin Guthrie and ITHAKA S+R managing director Catharine Bond Hill, discussed the narrowing difference between public and private institutions and their resulting competition for resources. One solution, said Guthrie, will be figuring out more flexible ways to provide access to content; another, according to Stevens, could lie in attracting private investment.

Much of the need to think outside traditional lines will be driven by the coming generation of students. The class of 2025, noted Lee Rainie, director of Internet, science, and technology research at Pew Research Center, will look decidedly different from their millennial counterparts—ethnically, culturally, and in the ways they learn and network.

According to Pew surveys, currently one in ten children in the United States with parents at home are of mixed race. Blacks and Hispanics are graduating from high school in ever higher numbers, and Rainie predicts that for the class of 2025, “mixed race” will become an identity category of its own.

Keeping track of the influx of students, both on-campus and distance learners, will mean the capture and storage of vast amounts of data on their behavior and activities. Clifford Lynch, executive director of the Coalition for Networked Information, pointed out that the dependence on such data for analytics will require increasing levels of responsibility and ethics. Student interactions with a school’s learning management system (LMS), financial aid data, use of e-textbooks, even data gathered by university-issued Fitbits—all will call for increasingly well-established, clear policies on their use.

Another potentially major area of change in higher education will be around credentialing systems, which will in turn drive what happens in the classroom. As the nature of the workplace changes, the literate, numerate, and tech savvy will have an even greater edge than they do now. Students won’t be tied to campuses, and the “gigabit generation” will be more invested in their networks than their hometowns or other more traditional identities—larger, more diverse networks will become important indicators of success. So how will institutions be able to “meet students where they are” when they’re from everywhere?

CUTTING COSTS, NOT CORNERS

One solution may lie with open educational resources (OER). The University of Maryland University College (UMUC) serves adult students—most of them in the workplace fulltime—as well as distance learners, all of whom are affected by rising textbook costs and, often, lack of access to the materials they need. In 2013 Marie Cini, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs decided to address this by replacing all class materials with OER. Library staff, working in teams, helped faculty find and curate resources linked to learning goals, and the university was able to absorb the low costs of instructional design and training.

By fall 2015 faculty had developed e-resources for over 700 courses, saving students $17 million as of spring 2016. The UMUC graduate school will have completed a similar project by spring 2017.

Mark McBride, director of library services at Monroe Community College (MCC), Rochester, NY, also cited OER as an important next step for his institution, where the majority of students have to take out loans just to purchase textbooks—and many leave with debt, but no degree. Through a community college–focused Achieving the Dream grant, MCC was able to help develop seven OER programs with in the State University of New York (SUNY) system, with the library as a home base. Collaboration, said McBride, has been key, with faculty working across SUNY campuses accomplishing much more than they could individually.

In the fall of 2014, the Georgia Institute of Technology (GA Tech) launched a fully online masters of science in computer science (MS-CS) degree. The program, delivered using massive open online course (MOOC) platforms, is fully equivalent to the school’s traditional MS-CS—but costs about $6,600 as opposed to the $42,000 residential students pay. “We have a mission to educate when we can,” noted Charles Isbell, professor of interactive computing and senior associate dean at Georgia Tech’s College of Computing, outlining the program’s development.

In partnership with MOOC provider Udacity and with startup costs funded by AT&T, GA Tech was able to enroll 500 students in the program’s first semester. Their average age was 35, and 90 percent were already employed—many by companies like Google and Amazon. Now in its third year, the MS-CS has close to 4,000 students enrolled from 100 countries and all 50 states; its success, said Isbell, lies not only in its affordability but the online community created around the coursework. Next, he plans to target underrepresented students, especially women, and look for more opportunities to develop similar programs.

STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS

Speakers also explored ways that higher education can look beyond standard academic partnerships to encourage growth. Ann Thornton, vice provost and university librarian for Columbia University, discussed the challenges and benefits of two institutional initiatives: ReCAP, Columbia’s resource-sharing partnership with Princeton University and New York Public Library, and 2CUL, a similar arrangement with Cornell University.

The projects, said Thornton, provide three lessons: 1) Collaboration itself is not a value but a means to an end; 2) Cooperation among institutions is easy, but real transformational change through collaboration is hard; and 3) If you’re trying for real transformation, aim high but remain flexible. One of the less visible cultural changes, she added, is the strengthened lines of communication and problem-solving—staff don’t hesitate to call or email their counterparts at their partner institutions.

John Price Wilkin, dean of libraries and university librarian at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, talked about his experience as a partner in the development of digital content repository HathiTrust, noting that, in addition to funding and workflow, one of the biggest challenges to such a large-scale collaboration has—perhaps unsurprisingly—involved governance.

On a smaller scale, Gretchen McKay, professor of Art History and chair of the Department of Art & Art History at McDaniel College, Westminster, MD, highlighted her work with the Council of Independent Colleges Consortium for Online Humanities Instruction, a two-year project where 20 institutions explored methods of online education. Her takeaways about collaborating: institutional differences need to be acknowledged and considered in advance, have your decision-makers at the table early on, and share technology—including calendars—to ensure easy participation.

PLANNING FOR PARTNERSHIPS

As changes—both planned for and unanticipated—manifest in the higher education landscape, institutions can also help prepare themselves by putting in place strong partnerships with their libraries and academic presses.

MIT Press director Amy Brand talked about the ongoing need to expand access to material and the fact that students are hungry for multiple platforms, noting that the press’s biggest seller is a print textbook that is also available online. Not only do university presses need to address issues of affordability and discoverability these days, she said, but they should look at expanding access to non-academic audiences as well—and that academic publishers need to move past the binary thinking inherent in the idea that because open access is good, publishers are bad.

There is a tension, she noted, between the press’s independence and success without any kind of endowment, and the growing pressure to publish with no embedded DRM (digital rights management) in order to aid OER initiatives. However, McBride pointed out, OER development requires administrative support, which includes that of academic presses as partners.

Jon Cawthorne, dean of libraries at West Virginia University (WVU), discussed ways that the university is looking to expand and strengthen its organizational development—including development of OER and partnership in the Association of College and Research Libraries’ Diversity Alliance, recently profiled as part of LJ’s look at how libraries are growing diversity in their ranks. WVU libraries are also partnering with campus health care initiatives and the university’s human resources department.

Cawthorne observed that change and transformation can be terrifying , and that opening channels of communication—and keeping them open—can be highly instrumental in moving change forward. All an institution’s systems need to work together, and the discussions need to happen over time to make them effective. “I’m grateful that I work in a place that folks are open to the conversation,” he added.

With strong partnerships in place, as well as innovative thinking around making resources more affordable and programs more accessible to students, higher education’s reach can continue to show the strong innovation and growth that characterized it in the second half of the 20th century—and beyond. When asked by an audience member about potential enrollment limits for GA Tech’s MS-CS program, Isbell didn’t hesitate.

“Well,” he answered, “there are only so many people on the planet.”

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. ITHAKA’s Next Wave: How Macro Changes in Higher Ed Shape Strategy

    It is great that “ITHAKA” addressed this issue in their next wave conference, “The Bigger Picture: How Macro Changes in Higher Education Should Shape Your Strategy.” OER’s are some of the free resources that not many educators ‘are not’ taking advantaged of even though they are peer reviewed. Let us hope that this conference will have open the door to more faculty sharing these peer review OER sources with their students.

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