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Redefining Our Role in Higher Education

By Chris Bustamante

Rethinking the traditional classroom experience with technology and the creation of individual student pathways.

In an era of diminishing resources, higher education institutions are increasingly being asked to do more with less. A recent study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that “forty-eight states … are spending less per student than they did before the recession.” Another study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require some postsecondary education and that the United States will be short 5 million workers with the necessary college credentials to fill those jobs.

Traditional methods and pipelines have worked well in the past, but the demographics are shifting, and more working adults are returning to school. By strengthening our role and redefining how we serve students, we can help all of our students navigate the college experience and persist to completion. Personalized technology and customized pathways are two ways that colleges can transform the learning process and support more learners.

Setting the pace

At Rio Salado College, we used funding from a Next Generation Learning Challenges grant to create RioCompass, a virtual portal that allows individual students to connect with their advisers and peer mentors and track their progress toward a degree in their chosen field of study.

Other predictive analytics tools, such as RioPACE, provide early alerts in online classes. Progress indicators alert students and instructors of engagement and “pace” in their classes and trigger faculty interventions when needed. Real-time information provides a continuous framework to motivate and engage students in the learning process.

Credit for prior learning

Adult learners come to our campuses with a wealth of knowledge and skills. Providing a pathway that awards students credit for prior learning is proved to accelerate certificate and degree completion. Research from the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning shows that students are 2.5 times more likely to persist when they have received credit for what they already know. However, not all higher education institutions recognize the value of these experiences with credit, and when they do, transferability is often an issue. It will take an alignment of higher education institutions, policymakers, government agencies and businesses to effectively recognize and articulate these credits and enable students to complete a certificate or degree that includes the knowledge gained outside the classroom.

The future of higher education is dependent upon our ability to transform existing institutional models in order to meet the needs of diverse student populations. We need to examine next-generation learning models and reform our institutions — mainly through new technologies and personalized pathways — to increase learning outcomes and lower costs for students and families. All of this depends on our ability as the nation’s community college leaders to take more risks and create solutions that support persistence, retention and completion.

Chris Bustamante

is the president of Rio Salado College in Arizona.

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