Innovation in College & Career Preparation

Catching Up With Higher Education Innovation

Carol D'Amico, USA FundsBy Carol D’Amico, USA Funds executive vice president, National Engagement and Philanthropy

This week I had the pleasure of addressing the 13th annual meeting of the Presidents’ Forum, a group of leaders from adult-serving postsecondary education institutions and programs that are working to advance the recognition of innovative practices and excellence in online learning.

Presidents Forum, National Forum fo rAlternative Paths to LearningI shared examples of USA Funds’ support of innovative new practices as part of our focus on Completion With a Purpose®, to ensure students are getting the most out of their college experiences and obtaining the education they need to align with their career aspirations and life goals, including the following:

  • Montana’s Prior Learning Assessment initiative is helping returning veterans of our Armed Services accelerate their completion of postsecondary programs and enhancing their employment opportunities. By validating their prior learning and experience, and granting academic credit for that experience, the program is improving graduation rates and reducing student expenses.
  • WGU Nevada is helping nontraditional adult learners enhance their skills and realize their dreams. For example, WGU helped a working adult who had dreamed since childhood about becoming a teacher. Once she entered the professional world, her schedule prevented her from pursuing a traditional postsecondary program. Thanks to WGU Nevada’s online, competency-based programs, the student was able to complete a bachelor’s degree in two and a half years, leading to employment as a special education teacher.
  • Missouri’s innovative approach to enhancing student success includes offering this competency-based model of learning through traditional campuses throughout the state.

Clearly, the college experience is different now than it was just 20 years ago. It is being redefined year by year and the sands are shifting beneath our feet. Students can study virtually any subject of their choosing, from anywhere. The classroom is not only made of bricks and mortar, but also online, on the job, in the field and in the home.  And for many, the path of a four-year traditional college experience is just one possible option. They seek other options to prepare for their lives and careers in the 21st century.

Yet, one key piece of the puzzle of how best to spur innovation in higher education seems to always be missing from the conversation. We cannot continue to make decisions about improving student outcomes, spurring more innovation, helping students compete in the 21st century or a myriad of other issues, without a better understanding of what the education consumer wants and needs in this process.

Earlier this year, USA Funds decided to do its part to better engage students and alumni by entering into collaboration with Gallup to produce what will be known as the Daily Education Index. Gallup and USA Funds will be out in the world almost every day for the next several years talking to current postsecondary students and alumni as well as their families about their educational experiences to help us all get a better sense of:

  • The degree to which people are satisfied with their education.
  • How do they rate the quality of their education?
  • How well did their education prepare them for their careers and their lives?
  • Was their education worth the cost?
  • How are consumers making their decisions about education?
  • From whom or what resources did they get advice on education, and which of those people or resources was most helpful?
  • What were the main reasons for their selection of specific programs?

With the first of many reports based on these surveys scheduled to be released in the spring, I believe this research will provide us with critical insight into the consumers’ perspective on higher education – real life opinions that are largely ignored in the debate or creation of policy. We will be able to break this data down by standard demographics, geography, education experience, work experience and socioeconomic levels.

And we will be able to share it with educators, administrators, public officials and employers, and inform solutions that will benefit current and future generations of students.

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