Higher Education

What to do when there are too many students?

The state of Oregon has indicated that by 2025, roughly 11 years from now, it wants 80 percent of adults to hold a college degree or a post-secondary certificate. If Oregon achieves its goal, just over three million people will hold a credential.

While there are a number of political options on the table to help make this a reality, most address cost and access. On the other hand, none of the proposed solutions address how to implement a system that manages and educates the flood of tens of thousands of incoming students.

Shaul Kuper

As someone who works with dozens of colleges and universities, developing the software for managing and administrating rapidly growing programs, I have a few ideas on how states like Oregon could make this work.

Treat students like consumers

To meet the proposed goal, Oregon will need to bring in a significant number of nontraditional students. As seasoned and sophisticated shoppers, these students expect their schools to provide the same level of experience they have grown accustomed when making other major purchases. While they must be treated like students in the classroom, nontraditional students behave like consumers when selecting and enrolling in courses or programs.

If the state wants to achieve its goals, it cannot make busy adults jump through unnecessary hoops (for example, coming to campus during business hours to have student IDs made). Many issues can be accounted for by providing students with self-service capabilities so they can do everything from enroll in courses and paying securely, to selecting exam proctors, to printing transcripts, all on their own schedules. But in order to truly treat students like consumers, institutions must get to know their students as individuals and strive to accommodate their diverse needs on all fronts.

Create economies of scale

To educate thousands more students, colleges and universities must allocate resources properly and create economies of scale. With such a large influx of students, inefficiencies — both in terms of process and infrastructure — will be multiplied exponentially; one-offs and workarounds will no longer suffice. Instead, to attract and retain so many more students without breaking the bank, institutions will need to automate and streamline their back-end.

Newfound efficiencies will allow colleges and universities to enroll more students, create new programs and market more effectively. Perhaps even more importantly, by creating process repeatability, institutions stand to vastly improve visibility and security. From ensuring course profitability to keeping student information secure, a streamlined back-end tracks, manages and secures processes and information so that even with a massive influx of students, nothing slips through the cracks.

Set up a system that favors lifelong learning

For Oregon’s initiative to be deemed successful, it will need to reach the proposed attainment goal, but I would argue that it will also need to show how it has benefited the individuals and the community. Technology is changing so quickly that tomorrow’s practices will eclipse today’s knowledge. As a result, a one-time degree or certification won’t meet the needs of today’s workforce. To give some context, our company commissioned a research project interviewing midsize to large employers across North America. We found that 70 percent of employers say today’s employees need continuous training and education just to keep up with their jobs.

Gone are the days when a “once-in-a-lifetime” degree could carry a person throughout their entire working life. Instead, we need to create lifelong learners if we are to solve tomorrow’s problems. That means moving from a degree credential to an outcome credential. It means moving from push education to just-in-time learning. It means moving from knowledge for knowledge’s sake to knowledge for employability. In the end, long-term success will hinge on creating a culture of lifelong learning to meet the needs of the workforce

Shaul Kuper is president and CEO of Destiny Solutions, a company that provides business software solutions for non-traditional divisions of leading higher education institutions, including Penn State World Campus, Stanford Center for Professional Development and eCornell.

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