Six Ways to Save Higher Education
While browsing through the Dartmouth College Bookstore in New Hampshire I came across a book with a bold title Saving Higher Education. Anyone who knows higher education knows it is an "industry" that is going through more change today than it has at any time since Harvard was established as the first college in 1636. Costs have increased dramatically. Delivery systems — such as online education — have irreversibly altered the traditional classroom model of learning. Information that once was communicated by a professor is now on every student's computer, and textbooks are quickly giving way to digital materials that can be instantly updated.
While it might be argued that change in higher education does not mean that it needs to be saved, those who value the contribution of the traditional model have to be concerned about what it will look like, and how it will function, in the future. Perhaps it does need to be saved.
Lipscomb would certainly be in the mix of universities that could be affected in substantial ways by changes in higher education. With a modest endowment and virtually no direct government funding, it joins hundreds of other institutions that must navigate unknown waters while fulfilling a familiar mission. Lipscomb has chosen to do so by 1) confronting the realities of higher education in a straightforward manner, 2) understanding the needs of both students and their future employers, and 3) supporting faculty who are diligently working to adapt and deliver exceptional educational products. Here’s what that looks like right now:
- Saving Higher Education advocates for a three-year bachelor's degree. I was pleased that Lipscomb University was the first school they identified when describing the "accelerated" three-year degree model. While not perfect, it was instituted at Lipscomb three years ago and has the potential to save a residential student about $10,000 in college costs and allow that person to become an earner a year early.
- Seamless transfer policies with community colleges so that students who plan carefully can fulfill their general education requirements at a community college, saving about $40,000, then doing their more specialized major work at Lipscomb, earning a Lipscomb degree at a lower cost.
- Establish special financial aid programs for disadvantaged and first-generation students so that they have access to higher education. At Lipscomb this is part of a strategy that has resulted in almost $2 million in aid and a minority student population increase of more than 100% -- from 382 to 771 in a student body of about 4,200 -- in the last five years, providing a richer cultural mix in the Lipscomb student body.
- Study the workplace need. We have created more than 50 new academic degrees and programs that respond to present and near-future employment demand, creating a connection between the academy and the workplace. They include information security; conflict management; sustainable practice; health care informatics; civic leadership; aging services leadership; pharmacy; molecular biology; law, justice and society; engineering management and educational leadership. None of those were degree programs when I was in college. All of them are part of the college I now serve.
- We have instituted one of the largest "Yellow Ribbon" programs in partnership with the Veterans Administration. Now, more than 170 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are enrolled at Lipscomb which provides both a personalized private education but also a Christian, nurturing environment for their healing. For Yellow Ribbon students at Lipscomb, their education is completely free. It is what we can do for those who did so much for our country.
- Look at innovative delivery. For instance, this fall we opened the first of what will be several off-campus education centers in our area. Spark, as our Cool Springs location is called, is the most innovative and technology-rich education facility in Tennessee. Already filled with corporate meetings during the day and graduate programs during the evenings, it takes the Lipscomb product conveniently to a new audience.
But all this is not enough. We are currently working on new online degree programs, more off-campus education centers and instituting the next wave of change which we believe will be education based upon measures of competence in specific areas rather than seat time and credit hours. Employers and graduate schools will not only know a Lipscomb applicant has a degree and a GPA, but will also have proven competence in any of 41 specific skill areas.
While "saving higher education" is not an exaggerated claim of what needs to be done, I am pleased that Lipscomb faculty are on top of it and working daily to create not only an excellent institution but one that is cost-competitive and relevant to the needs of students today... and tomorrow.