Monday, November 3, 2014

Societal Implications: Getting Ahead of the Future That’s Already Here

It seems a news story appears in front of me at least once a week that gives me pause – nanotechnology, drones, 3-D printing, the Internet of everything, and countless other developments demonstrate the far and distant future is already here.  A movie that pulls much of it together for me is Transendence.  Whether or not you like Johnny Depp or the movie itself, it has a number of futuristic applications of technologies that exist today – pulled together to demonstrate a particular scenario for how all of this may someday coincide. Nanoparticles that regenerate on their own; bio-engineering that heals wounds and illness; smart machines that anticipate human actions and emotions; all notions that are currently in the research labs of today – likely to be part of our daily lives in a matter of years through an ongoing series of disruptive innovations.

The future is here.

What’s amazing to me is that two of the most disruptive and eventually ubiquitous industries of the 21st Century (and beyond!) are likely to have their core here in upstate New York and the Mohawk Valley specifically.  Nanotechnology is already changing our world through faster and more powerful computer applications and personal devices that are providing new horizons for education – just think of how many apps are already employed in the life of our students.  Additionally, drones are increasingly in the news.  Beyond the highly touted Amazon deliveries, I’ve included a brief link here for the top ten non-military uses of Drones.

While our FabLab is being constructed this fall, 3-D printing is evolving at an incredible rate.  The technology has gone from printing fun little prototypes to real-world useful products in a proverbial blink of an eye. Bio-printing creates human body parts like ears, noses, fingers, and human skin.  The idea was a TED talk two years ago and had people dreaming of the future…the first surgery using a 3-D printed body part has already been successfully completed!  Edible cookies and other food applications; countless manufacturing applications (including an entirely functional automobile!); and just about whatever anyone can construct in their mind are already being produced.

The dynamics and intersections of all these elements are hard to track in some confluence that lays out a clear path of action for us.  What we do know is that it’s all coming together in some fashion to create a very new and complex future for us and our students.  What gives me hope and confidence is the history of MVCC and this organization’s ability to evolve and meet a changing future in productive ways.  Our challenge is how to create an ongoing dialogue across the College to scan, process, and derive meaning from everything going on around us to take the innovative practices happening at the fringe of our enterprise and scale up by bringing them to the core.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Organizational Implications: Getting Ahead of the Future That’s Already Here

I have written in previous posts about the parallel between the healthcare industry and the postsecondary industry and I continue to be fascinated how trends in healthcare remain about ten years ahead of postsecondary education.  From increased accountability to big data applications, analyzing healthcare trends is like looking into a crystal ball of sorts when it comes to preparing for fundamental changes to the political and operating environment for colleges.

Consumerism is the newest trend appearing in the healthcare field.  A number of signals are demonstrating that the only way to bring the rising costs of healthcare under control is to put more responsibility on the consumer – and that is happening at an accelerating rate.  The same is likely to be true with the costs of a college education.  As federal financial policies are under greater scrutiny and states grow increasingly frustrated with the lack of outcomes (i.e., healthcare industry circa 2010), new mechanisms may appear that put the power and responsibility in the hands of the student (consumer) in even more significant ways.  For example, in Colorado, the state aid revenue doesn’t go to the community college, it goes with the student in the form of a voucher.  For now, it sounds like a lot of paperwork, but the principle is a tangible message of things to come in the future of public higher education in this country.

The changing dynamics of the external forces require us to anticipate trends before they’re even identified as such – as the famous hockey player Wayne Gretzky is quoted as saying, “I skate to where the puck will be, not where it has been.”  So too must community colleges go to where their community will be; and where the students will be; and where the funding will be; and where the accountability will be – that is where we must go.

The future is here.

As change becomes more rapid and more acute in our external environment, we must become that much better at change in our internal culture.  Peter Drucker is credited with saying, “culture eats strategy for breakfast” and I believe he is right.  We all must work on our culture.  The recent development of a new core values statement is very exciting.  Having a set of core values provides us a foundation to develop a common vocabulary and hold each other accountable, but it also provides a steady and stable force for our organizational culture in the midst of great changes all around us.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Teaching & Learning: Getting Ahead of the Future That’s Already Here

"The future ain’t what it used to be."  The quote attributed to Yogi Berra could not be more meaningful these days.  We can easily get caught in our own thinking ruts – using linear thinking and mental models that are increasingly, if not already, outdated by a world that is changing faster than most anyone of us can comprehend.  It is all too easy to make assumptions from our individual and collective experiences that simply extrapolate the past into the present, while thinking the future will be best met through similar approaches to those that have worked in the past. Rut thinking and stale mental models limit our thinking; inhibits a mindset of abundance; and minimizes options for problem solving.

The future is here.

No area is free from the crushing presence of the future that is already upon us.  This includes the core of our enterprise – teaching and learning.  Fortunately, MVCC has a long history of amazing faculty members who are drawn to the craft of teaching and is fortunate to have a number of faculty currently pushing the envelope by experimenting with the latest developments in the art and practice of teaching.

We have enrichment and professional development for faculty and staff through a nationally recognized program of outstanding and robust offerings. Continuous learning for ourselves is critical when we consider how quickly changes in the educational setting are accelerating. 

Research on the human brain over the past decade has demonstrated the consistent finding that learning occurs best when students experience a shift of some kind every 12 minutes – mini-lecture; video; individual reflection; small group discussion; mini-lecture; video; etc.  What does that require of classrooms, technology, furniture, faculty, students, or materials? 

Massive Open Online Courses where thousands can enroll in a single section of a free online course offered by well-known universities are a disruptive innovation.  While their immediate threat to traditional education seems to have transitioned to providing access to education in lesser developed countries, they represent a new educational delivery brought to scale. 

Open educational resources (OER) leverage the wealth of information that is available for free on the Internet.  OERs in full form take the shape of the “free textbook” – replacing the traditional textbook with guided links to all the necessary information that can be found on the web in one form or another.  Nationally, average textbook costs equal more than 70% of community college tuition making this a financial imperative toward reducing educational costs for our students. 

The “flipped classroom” combines brain research and OERs with intentional mini-lectures and facilitates students accessing the traditional information outside the classroom and doing their traditional homework inside the classroom through guided activities following an initial mini-lecture to set the stage for very active learning. 

Hybrid offerings combine the best of traditional classroom learning with the best of online learning in a convenient and intentionally designed curriculum delivery.

I’m proud to say we have a number of faculty already applying many of these concepts in their classes, but the challenge with any change is how to bring it to scale to maximize the benefits that can lead to further innovations.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Big Data is Coming

I remember my graduate advisor telling me, “If you want to work in community colleges, start in Institutional Research. Community colleges don’t know anything about themselves and you’ll learn about every area of the college because everyone needs data.” Twenty-five years later, that proved to be great advice because it was easy to find a job; I learned about most every area of the community college operation; and community colleges still know very little about themselves. 

The same is true here at MVCC, where individual faculty and staff know a great deal about their jobs, but the organization as a whole lacks the collective understanding of the factors that affect the college. One solution to this challenge is Big Data.

The increasing profile and interest in big data is now moving from the private sector to higher education through increased accountability and reporting requirements, performance-based funding, and the national student success agenda. In fact, SUNY’s annual conference last fall was presented with the overarching conference theme of “Big Data.”

A few years ago, I was intrigued when the employment projections said, “7 out of the 10 jobs that will be in demand in 2015 don’t exist yet.” A data scientist is an example of a new job category that is finding employment in big businesses like Amazon, Apple, and Google. Ever wonder how they know what books you might want to read or songs you might want to buy? It’s called data analytics or big data. I recently heard of a petabyte as a unit of computer memory that is 1024 terabytes, which in turn is 1024 gigabytes. I was not surprised that a new category was needed until I later learned that after petabytes, there are exabytes, zettabytes, yottabytes, brontobytes, and, the largest of all, geopbytes – talk about big data!

The collection and analysis of large databases to inform decision-making has been around for some time, but the evolution of the field is rapidly moving toward predictive analytics – using data to not only inform decision-making, but to predict human behavior based on intentional analysis.

Having always worked in community colleges, I’m hesitant to quickly translate business models and trends into the educational sector. However, predictive analytics and big data seem relevant and useful. Consider the following:
  • Students shouldn’t have to apply for graduation – we should have enough data to tell them when they’re eligible to graduate, right?
  • Why aren’t colleges able to better explain – specifically – swings in enrollment and the reasons for them?
  • If we know the factors that put students at risk, why aren’t more interventions done earlier in a student’s educational journey?
  • With the right data collection and analysis, shouldn’t colleges be able to STOP doing more things that don’t work and investing more in the things that do work?
  • We send so much data to the State and SUNY through mandatory reporting requirements that they know more about us than we do about ourselves.
MVCC recently joined the Achieving the Dream (ATD) national network as part of our commitment to student success. Now in its tenth year, the network has helped its member colleges enhance their ability to collect, analyze, and use data to inform decision-making at all levels. Many colleges have stopped doing things that they thought were good ideas and well-intentioned initiatives, because when they analyzed the data, they weren’t making a difference in student success. It is still very early in the process for us – we haven’t even attended the kickoff institute for new member colleges.  However, I am confident that MVCC’s membership in ATD will accelerate our entry into the world of Big Data, which will be a much more productive transition if we move there through our own initiative than being dragged there by some other entity. Who knows, we could even learn something about ourselves.

If you have any questions or comments on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Celebrate Libraries During National Library Week

One of our daughters recently asked me a question while she was working on a paper for school.  She asked, “Dad, how did you do any research before the Internet?  I mean what were libraries like without computers?”  My explanation was probably longer than she anticipated or wanted, as I recalled (in great detail) the routine of going to the card catalog and looking up a particular book on a little 3x5 index card and going through the “stacks” to find all the books I needed – time and again and again, as I could only carry so many books at one time while working on my dissertation.  Suffice it to say, things were very different and libraries have literally transformed themselves in the last twenty years – a transformation worth recognizing during National Library Week, which is this week April 13-19, 2014.

I’m so proud of our libraries and the staff that make them such a valuable resource at both our Utica and Rome Campuses.  Over the past several years, our librarians recognized the importance of the Internet and reduced the number of hard copy books in our collection; developed an amazing inter-library loan service that provides most any book on demand in a day or two; and added or upgraded computers to significantly better serve students.  Additionally, the renovations at our Utica Campus library added study rooms that are used regularly by students throughout the year.  Over the past several years, our library regularly ranks as one of the most highly regarded services at the College in comparison to others in the SUNY system on the Student Opinion Survey.

A campus library is an iconic element in the center of the academic experience.  We’re fortunate at MVCC to have an outstanding and forward-thinking library staff that we celebrate here during National Library Week.  To learn more about libraries at MVCC, watch our brief video here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xt4PgkbSRdc

If you have any questions, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Go with Your Strengths

"They focused on their strengths and that's how they won the game" is a statement I've heard announcers and analysts say time and again throughout the March Madness NCAA basketball tournament that culminated with Monday’s and Tuesday’s national championships.  The same holds true for success in our personal and professional lives.   Focusing on what we do best and doing more of whatever it may be gives us confidence; yields success; and that success yields even more success.

The Gallup organization has taken more than 50 years of research to develop 34 themes that we all carry to some degree.  The idea of strengths is that the more we are aware of our top five themes, the more we can turn them into strengths through our awareness and conscious actions.  It involves a 30 minute 188-item online questionnaire that assesses personal preferences on a number of different dimensions.

I believe our continued use of a strengths-based approach to personal and professional growth has the potential to become a distinctive feature of Mohawk Valley Community College.  Centering conversations on someone's strengths can provide a constructive context to have an otherwise difficult conversation.  Strengths inherently refer to the best in all of us and can provide a creative mechanism to think differently about a problem or challenge.  So many organizations, and colleges in particular, find themselves relying on old habits of problem solving. In contrast, a strengths-based approach opens new doors to conversations that can lead to new solutions - whether it be a gifted student trying to turn that C into an A or a College trying to address a recurring problem.

In the past three years, nearly 70 percent (302) of all current full-time employees and more than 100 part-time employees have completed the Gallup Strengthsfinder assessment.  They've done so not only to better understand themselves and each other, but perhaps even more importantly, to better understand and support our students - more than 1,000 currently enrolled students (and another 2,000 who have since moved on) have completed the assessment themselves.  With the support of faculty and staff who are familiar with strengths these students are learning to leverage their strengths to change their behavior and experience greater success in their academic studies at MVCC.

A number of classes at MVCC use the book, StrengthsFinder 2.0.  The book is written by Gallup executive Tom Rath and provides the security key to take the assessment along with an explanation of the 34 themes along with some advice on how to use your strengths. The book helps people understand that a focus on strengths is about making the most of our talents rather than a discouraging focus to repair our flaws.  Rath argues that focusing on our strengths not only increases our confidence and productivity, but our outlook and sense of hope – isn’t that something we could all use?

The mindset of abundance and strength is also an important underpinning of our forthcoming strategic plan process, which I wrote about here.

The Strengths page on our website provides greater detail (including a brief video from a previous vlog) http://www.mvcc.edu/academic-programs/strengthsquest-1.  If you have any questions or comments on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Built to Last – the Value of Core Values

Our external environment is becoming more complex with forces like nanotechnology and drone technology abounding. This is shaping the economic future of our region, so the demands and expectations placed on MVCC by the community will increase accordingly. Couple those demands with the increasing influence of the Power of SUNY Strategic Plan and we run the risk of getting pulled in all directions without focus or clarity. As I spelled out in my previous blog, this calls for a more intentional strategic planning process. To support the process, I invite you to revisit the core values of what makes Mohawk Valley Community College the unique and dynamic organization that it’s been, is, and will continue to be.

Core values define how organizations will go about achieving their potential. They can motivate and unite an organization’s employees and stakeholders, and they serve to tether an organization during periods of ambiguity or accelerated change. As Jim Collins says in his book, Built to Last, “enduring great organizations preserve their core values and purpose while their…strategies and operating practices endlessly adapt to a changing world. This is the magical combination of preserve the core and stimulate progress.”

 Similarly, in his book, Good to Great, Collins states that there are no correct core values. Rather, the mere fact that an organization has a set of core values and knows what they mean sets them apart from organizations that do not have a clear understanding of their core values.

With this in mind, I announced at Convocation last August that we would be embarking on a process this year to revisit our Core Values at MVCC. I placed a call for interested faculty and staff who would like to serve on a Core Values Workgroup last month and received 35 responses. From that list, I invited 13 individuals to serve as a representative group to lead the process. Professor Ron Labuz agreed to serve as chair and the group has met to outline their approach. 

The Values Workgroup identified a number of constituents to survey and collect insights and perspective on what makes MVCC unique. During the remainder of the Spring semester, students, employees, retirees, and community partners will be asked to reflect on what is at the core of MVCC. The workgroup will define and amplify the responses into a statement of enduring values – a statement providing one, unifying point of connection among the many stories told about our organizational culture.

A meaningful statement of core values can serve as our safe harbor amid winds of change. These values can guide decision-making, influence our individual and collective actions, and shape our conversations and deliberations in ways that build on the best of what has made MVCC special through nearly seven decades of service to this community and more than 40,000 alumni.
If you want to have direct input at the front end of the process, please respond to the workgroup’s survey questions—and be prepared to participate and offer your reflections as the process moves forward.

If you have any comments or questions, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Good Planning and Strong Relationships: MVCC’s Priorities for the Future

My college golf coach had a way of simplifying the game to help us play better. Rather than keep track of 20+ different elements of the swing, he had us focus on the most important two or three elements that, if done right, pull together the rest of the swing. Rather than thinking about all 18 holes, his mantra was two shots at a time - hitting this shot well to set up the next one. We competed in some challenging circumstances including one round that had sunshine, rain, and snow in equal doses; and his focus on strategy helped us succeed where other teams failed.

When we are at our best, an MVCC education can transform lives. But when we are not laser-focused on student completion, we leave that impact more to chance. Just like a golf swing, when we try to focus on too many things at once, we reduce the chance of hitting accurately.

In this blog, I share my thoughts on how this ties in to the many other activities of the College – and how we can tee off on the shot right in front of us to position ourselves for the next one. I will share my focus with you, and outline how you, too may be able to understand the process of change.

In short, our most important area of focus is redesigning MVCC’s strategic plan to promote completion. Focusing on strategies for completion will organize and make sense of all the other activities and forces affecting us right now. The shot in front of us is to build our relationships with each other. That’s how we’ll be ready for the next shot, which will require intensive teamwork.

A recent visit from Jim Simpson to our January Institute provided tremendous examples of how this plays out, thanks to Jim’s single-minded focus on increasing the number of students who graduate.

Many key faculty, staff, and administrators attended Jim’s various workshops over two days. The buzz, ideation, and energy for many of us were palpable – a natural response to Jim’s research.

That energy reminded me of the College’s sea change that was set in motion in 2008. Back then, the institution put together design teams who made many bold recommendations. There were many months of accelerated change implementation. This created communication gaps and growing frustration among departments, because the changes weren’t initially prioritized and coordinated. For faculty and staff in many areas the impact was overwhelming and uncertain, but eventually the changes became better aligned. Today their positive impact is evident throughout our institution.

Fast-forward to 2014. Education is anything but a game—but if it were, its rules, courses, weather, and even our clubs would be changing fast. Will we play it safe? Will we hit it into the rough? Or will we focus on what we need to, and hit our next shot straight and far? How will we set up the next shots to lift graduation rates?

Performance-based funding, enrollment pressures, and far-reaching SUNY initiatives are likely to cloud our budgets and program delivery. New and future programs, like Title III and Achieving the Dream, have the potential to unleash massive changes to our learning environment. Community visioning and strategic planning process changes are beginning to take on a spin of their own. The college completion agenda and the launch of a strategic enrollment plan are starting to stretch our organizational muscles in new ways. Nanotech, local business booms, and drone plans look like they are becoming reality, bringing promises and challenges. I could name many more potentially disruptive changes inside and outside MVCC, and I know that all areas of the College are facing new demands and challenges of their own.

Change will happen to us whether we are ready or not. If we don’t focus on organizing it, we won’t manage it well. If we can find a meaningful priority around which to organize change, we will have a great swing and be able to keep MVCC and our students on line to greater success. This is what we should do to make our students’ outcomes better and our college a better place to work.

Recent changes in our external have accelerated past our existing strategic plan in some ways, leaving a sense we lack that organizing priority. So my vision is that the next update of our strategic plan will become that priority. When we are wondering what to focus on, it should be the plan, as that is the axis around which all other initiatives, challenges, and opportunities will be organized. The planning process will take a hodge-podge of ideas and initiatives and collect them into a steady, focused, and prioritized course of action.

The output of the strategic planning process will help decide budget and staffing. We’ll have clear goals and rationales for how dollars and people will affect student outcomes. Given time and focused planning, our environment will feel less chaotic and more prepared to harness the excitement and energy of doing what MVCC does best.

To explore this point, consider Jim Simpson’s presentations alongside our College’s conversations about Achieving the Dream. Taken separately these could be seen as potentially unfocused sources of change. Viewed together and rolled up under a new strategic plan, they become significant organizational priorities within a larger, coherent plan.

For example, Jim affirmed that excellent teaching that employs active learning is the most powerful influence to increase student completion, but it takes a long time and leaves too much to chance if not supported by well-designed programs, information-rich systems, and intrusive advising. Based on the research he presented, we know that:
  • for every course of dual credit or advanced placement on a high school transcript, a student has a 5.9% greater chance of graduating college;
  • single points of failure like a graduation fee reduce graduation rates;
  • for every credit over 60 in an associate degree program, graduation rates are reduced 2.9%;
  • students have a 33% greater chance of completing an associate degree if they complete an embedded certificate along the way;
  • and the sophisticated tracking and reporting tools we will develop are only possible if we spend the critical time up-front ensuring accuracy.
Jim Simpson’s message has impact, but is it just a shot into the rough? Or is it setting up our students to win? If we want to give it focus, we must think clearly about how we can roll up his input into our next strategic plan.

Jim’s visit coincided with the College’s application to participate in the national Achieving the Dream (ATD) initiative, which will create a more data-rich support system for student completion at MVCC. I view Jim as a coach for ATD, and his message about graduation rates shows us what we need to focus on most closely. Information like Simpson’s data and ATD’s potential will be fed into the strategic planning process, which will result in clear, focused goals for MVCC. Cabinet and budget managers will use these goals to drive budgets and organizational initiatives.

If we approach it this way, instead of being disconnected and divergent, the energies of Jim's visit and ATD will become focused with clear priorities. With some well-placed and well-informed efforts, we will make significant (even amazing) progress on student completion.

In reflecting on the timing, I think it would have been nice to have Jim join us for the Summer Institute when more of us could have attended. That said, it was necessary to have him join us now – at the start of ATD – to help us aim for the appropriate focus.

Appropriately for a learning institution in a changing environment, many people are asking what we should do next, while strategic planning comes up to speed. My expectation is that we will not hit shots willy-nilly and then get frustrated because the interdepartmental relationships and lines of communication aren’t strong enough. We must not do everything all at once without clear lines of responsibility and accountability.

What we should do next is pay attention now to strengthening our relationships. They will be the key to implementing all the things we will want to do after. For my part I will be focusing on our solid, existing network of committees, councils, and workgroups. I will encourage them to communicate with each other to make focused decisions about how to infuse things like Simpson’s teachings and ATD into our strategic plan. As other priorities emerge, I will be aiming for clarity on who will be responsible for what, and how initiatives will roll up under our strategic plan.

It is my hope that if we proceed this way, there will be less confusion. To reach our potential and maximize the benefits of a shared focus on completion, we’re going to need to rely on each other more. Changing the lives of our students will require us to change too, and this will feel much better if we organize it around something that we all share - a strategy to be at our best for students.

If you have any comments or questions, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Community is the Answer

Community – a deep sense of community – is what will sustain us in an ever-increasingly complex and stressful future. That is what leadership author and inspirationalist Meg Wheatley says, and I agree with her.

As chaos and its consequences manifest themselves (think our federal government gridlock, economic uncertainties, environmental issues, and global unrest), the larger context of our daily lives grows more unsettling. Simultaneously, everyday life in our country seems to grow a little more unpredictable on a regular basis with technological advances and accelerating social changes. The issues and problems can seem overwhelming, but Wheatley also posits that “whatever is the problem, community is the answer.” The values of collaboration and community lead to win/win solutions if people are willing to deal with a little uncertainty and trust in principles of community.

MVCC is an anchor institution in this region – influential companies and other entities have come and gone, but this College has persevered. We have the word “community” in our name and we are inextricably tied to the Mohawk Valley. Our vision statement speaks to our commitment to meet the rapidly changing needs of our community. For us to pursue and carry out that commitment to our community, we must model the way for the region with the approach that this area needs to move away from a win/lose orientation that only goes to protect turf or the status quo. For this region to truly prosper, notions of either/or and yes/no need to be replaced with yes/AND – true to the values of collaboration and community. Resources are indeed scarce, but they will be even scarcer if we work within a competitive, isolated, self-serving mindset.

We’re starting to see this more cooperative approach as governmental agencies are increasingly dipping their collective toes in the merger/collaboration waters; the local agribusiness sector is also modeling the yes/AND mindset as they find ways to support one another and complement related lines of business; and increasingly the business and education sectors are rapidly coming together to find new ways of collaboration and partnership to better prepare the workforce for accelerating, exciting, and even daunting changes on the horizon.

A yes/AND mindset doesn’t always mean that everyone always gets exactly what they want when all is finished. However, through a commitment to collaboration – with a little give and take and a willingness to shift in order to accommodate the needs of others in some manner – this larger context allows for a deeper sense of community that moves its members from simply surviving to a far more desired state of thriving.

Richard Florida’s recent presentation to the community at the Stanley Theater tied all these ideas together as he spoke about what distinguishes cities from one another and attracts what he calls the creative class. His framework said communities need to focus on the three Ts: technology, talent, and tolerance. He closed his remarks by saying that not only does this area have the foundations of these three concepts, we also have a very distinct history that is part of a continuing narrative for this community. 

He said that in the past, many communities used to be defined by large employers, and when those employers would leave, the sense of community would have to be reborn. We have certainly seen our share of large employers leave, but the essence of this community has remained – through events like the Boilermaker and the Heart Run/Walk; through organizations like MVCC, other colleges, and countless service organizations that have existed for generations; and local assets like the incredible homegrown restaurants, the Stanley Theater, the Utica Auditorium, exquisite public parks, to name just a few! As Florida reminded us, up-and-coming cities can’t recreate our sense of shared history that helps to draw a community ever-closer – and in the end, amidst all the chaos in our world, isn’t a sense of belonging what we all long for as humans?

If you have any comments or questions, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Trends Worth Watching

To understand what higher education industry might look like in the future, I often pay close attention to what’s happening in the healthcare industry. There are, in fact, many parallels that can be drawn, but some of the most important  include:
  • Patient outcomes = student outcomes: Hospitals were increasingly accountable for patient outcomes in the mid-1980s as colleges did the same for student outcomes in the late ’90s.
  • Performance-based funding: Medicaid reimbursements went to performance-based funding more than a decade ago. Today 15 states currently have PBF in place or in process to implement for public higher education, and another 20 states have legislation in discussion. More recently, Medicaid funding has incorporated “patient satisfaction” as a factor in reimbursement. What would or will it look like if higher education funding incorporates student satisfaction levels as  means for determining the value of the public dollars spent on higher education?
  • Increasing government influence: PBF has been implemented to increase accountability in the healthcare field. Over the past two decades, costs have been spiraling out of control; outcomes have been questionable; and performance measures have not clarified the value of the public investment. As a result, the federal Affordable Care Act has been passed and will fundamentally transform the healthcare industry. Looking at higher education today, it’s evident that costs are spiraling ever-upward (making community colleges increasingly a first-choice option for many); outcomes are still questioned; and the value of public investment is under a microscope. Fast-forward two decades (or less!) and consider the healthcare parallel with regard to the relationship between government and public higher education.
Another consideration for all of higher education is the advent of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Delivering free content from faculty members at the most prestigious universities to reach hundreds of thousands of individuals in a single section is a novel idea suddenly brought to scale. 

Last year, we went from watching an interesting TED Talk to suddenly seeing a news story seemingly every other day about how MOOCs were beginning to take shape and catch the eye of other colleges that might use MOOC content to shape degree programs. While MOOCs are worth our attention, I am not so sure they will replace campus-based education. Similar to the advent of online education 15 years ago, I see them as a "yes/and" proposition
– likely to supplement rather than supplant face-to-face education. They do, however, represent a significant adjustment in our way of thinking about content delivery and how the Internet can so quickly bring things to scale – 100,000 students in a single section was hard to conceive with the concept of a MOOC.

In the short term, the most important thing for us to consider is the flexibility in our "credit for prior learning" processes and the extent to which we'll be able to accommodate non-traditional learning, like MOOCs, and evaluate it against our academic standards.

Finally, the Power of SUNY warrants our attention and commitment as system-wide initiatives will increasingly affect MVCC's future. SUNY's Strategic Plan is focused on leveraging the largest single higher education system in the country to maximize public investment and return economic and community vitality to every region of the Empire State. Initiatives like student mobility and transfer, common general education requirements, credit limits by degree, and shared services are all intended to call the question, "if we're not truly a system, why wouldn't we be doing these things?" They all require a great deal of conversation from every constituency group in the system, but if done well, each one will make the system stronger for students and communities throughout New York State. It's easy to think of them as SUNY initiatives off in the distance, but each initiative has tremendous implications for changes at all SUNY campuses – including MVCC. 

As fall semester classes are well under way now, we are in that joyous rhythm of the academic year. We carry out our work in a larger, ever-changing context, and these are just some of the more visible trends that will likely continue to shape our future endeavors.  

If you have any questions or comments, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.