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.