How Can Colleges Evolve From COVID-19?
If necessity is the mother of invention, then the current pandemic provides no shortage of drive to change how we think about and use our key institutions. This is the topic that Ann Kirschner took on in her recent article for Forbes on nine ways we can be using this time to “reimagine higher education.”
Kirschner’s first and second points stress using this moment to address underlying issues in higher education. She advocates for using this time of change to rethink what audience colleges are catering to. Taking the time to make sure that schools are engaging with a wide variety of students at all levels is key to fight the growing commodification of ‘elite’ higher ed. This includes innovating transformative hybrid models that colleges can build off of in the future to meet more student needs than ever before while focusing on learning outcomes and work skills. This also incorporates another suggestion – getting off of Zoom, a low-engagement platform, and starting your own, dynamic, interactive solution instead.
She also discusses the gap year, frequently seen in the past as an unnecessary graduation rate killer and detrimental to student success. There will be students who, following COVID, are forced to take a year off of school, either pushing back plans or changing the type of institution they’ll be attending. Kirschner suggests that colleges need to engage these students where they’re at. By building in gap year programs, future students are less likely to go to a different institution or to decide not to go to college. Done properly, this could mean a vibrant undergraduate community with world experience. As an example, she offers up Boost, Kaplan’s pre-college program.
More of Kirschner’s suggestions take aim at career-focused learning and graduate outcomes after students leave the school. She advocates for higher education not to turn their nose up at vocational institutions, but instead to implement more programs at their own schools that are focused on student employment. Kirschner finds fault with the lop-sided university focus on enrollment but not employment, stating, “If higher education is serious about student success, then unemployment represents institutional failure.” Creating an alumni network and connecting graduates with resources can improve graduates’ chances of employment after school. She also mentions building more “on and off ramps” to education, including the opportunity to continue education after completing a degree or certification.
Kirschner’s last two methods include change for individual institutions: reinvigorating faculty and partnering with other businesses or colleges. These are changes that can be made as needed, based on campus environment and student need. The key takeaways being that passionate, engaged faculty make for passionate, engaged students. For this to happen, faculty must feel support from their school. Additionally, colleges should be making sure that faculty are pursuing innovative, current solutions so as to not fall behind. Institutions, in turn, must do the same thing by creating branches into businesses and other colleges, thus giving students a built-in network and an education that comes from a variety of viewpoints.
Unprecedented times beget innovative solutions. Kirschner advocates for higher ed to reflect, create, and move forward in a new direction that can better serve a wide variety of students in the future.
Read Kirschner’s full article here.