Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Here We Go Again

This holiday season, I have been thinking about the things for which I am grateful. Certainly I would include health, family, my job, and our students in my list. But I would include something else as well.

I was lucky enough to be part of the Internet revolution in higher education. In the late eighties and early nineties, I was one of the higher education nerds exploring the possibilities associated with this new global network. While playing with new technology toys, I began to understand how this explosive communication revolution would change higher education. Those changes are best illustrated by distance learning, or the idea that learning is an activity not a location. Betting my career on those changes turned out well for me, and it has also turned out well for the College.

Today, as I look around the higher education landscape, I see another such "change moment" arriving. This time the driver is not technology, but money. For the U.S. to remain the world's dominant economy we must continually find new ways to increase the percentage of our working population that is educated. The aggressive pursuit to grow the number of people who receive higher education is what has driven our country's economic success. For the first time in generations, that percentage is slipping. And it is slipping because the cost of higher education has outstripped family incomes.

The solution to this problem is lower cost models of education, and, as I have written about before, Charter Oak's prior learning programs are being re-discovered by the larger educational community. Education that stresses assessment while opening the door to a variety of approaches to learning -- from classrooms to work experiences to military training -- lowers the cost and increases the speed of degree attainment. I can sense that those institutions that understand learning assessment are gaining leverage and will soon gain market share. Traditional higher education cannot "bend the cost curve;" only a new model can do that. I can't believe that I will be alive for two such disruptive education revolutions in a single lifetime. It feels like 1992 all over again.

Charter Oak was created 40 years ago to disrupt traditional higher education (long before Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen did the research that gave "disruptive innovation" its name). We are not designed to create sustaining innovations in the dominant model of higher education. We were created and then placed outside traditional higher education in order to be able to invent new approaches that serve underserved or unserved markets. Today it looks like we will be called on to figure out how to do those things at scale, for thousands of students instead of for dozens.

For those of you who have taken advantage of Charter Oak's prior learning assessment programs, I'd like to know about your experience. Please share your thoughts in comments.

So I plan to send my staff off for the holidays with this wish: Have a wonderful holiday season, and then come back to work invigorated and ready to invent the future.

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