Education Dive recognized three colleges, one president, and a K-12 partnership for their efforts to shape the future of higher education. The publication congratulated honorees for finding innovative ways to support underrepresented students and prepare graduates for the workforce.
Here are Education Dive‘s five most innovative colleges, presidents, and partnerships of 2018.
University of the Year: The University of California, Merced (UC Merced)
UC Merced earned “University of the Year” award for their efforts to expand access to higher ed for low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students.
UC Merced has been very effective at reaching and enrolling Latinos, the largest ethnic group in California, reports Hallie Busta. More than half of their undergraduates are Hispanic.
“Many of these students were not gaining access as they should be to research universities,” says UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland. “We were built [in San Joaquin Valley] to create that access. They came, they loved it and they went back to their communities. So there was a lot of word of mouth.”
To accommodate more students, UC Merced plans to double the size of its campus and make room for as many as 10,000 students. UC Merced’s work will be critical to helping the UC system better reflect the state’s demographics, writes Busta.
President of the Year: Michael Sorrell, President of Paul Quinn College
When Sorrell took the helm of Paul Quinn in 2007, the college was facing low retention rates and accreditation troubles. “We were down. We were 18 months to two years from closing,” says Sorrell. “And in that situation, we had to make some tough decisions centered around who do we want to be and who can we be.”
Sorrel had to made big changes to turn the college around. He converted the football field into an organic farm, added a career focus to the liberal arts curriculum, and cut tuition by $9,000, reports Busta. Over the past decade, retention rates have jumped from 38% in the 2007-2008 academic year to 63% in 2016-2017, and enrollment has increased from 150 in 2010 to more than 500 today.
Sorrell also shifted Paul Quinn to a work-college model to support their large Pell-eligible student population. Under the model, students can work part-time jobs as part of their studies. If students have to work, the college can help ensure their work doesn’t detract from their academic experience, argues Sorrell.
Strategic Move of the Year: Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) $1B AI Push
More colleges are investing in AI disciplines, but MIT’s new computing college is unmatched in scope and scale, writes Education Dive‘s Natalie Schwartz.
The new college, which will open next fall, will blend AI, data science, and computer science with the humanities and social sciences. The university’s hefty investment signals that interdisciplinary approach to technology is key to staying competitive, she argues.
“[Computing is] everywhere, and it needs to be understood and mastered by almost everyone,” said MIT President Rafael Reif in the university announcement. “In that context, for a host of reasons, society is uneasy about technology—and at MIT, that’s a signal we must take very seriously.” To address concerns about technology, MIT says it will focus research and instruction on policy and ethics to ensure AI developments support the greater good.
Innovator of the Year: Central New Mexico Community College (CNM)
CNM is leading higher ed efforts to use blockchain efficiently and securely to show verification of student degrees and other credentials.
As of August 2018, all CNM graduates are offered the option of a physical and blockchain diploma. Students can share their digital diploma with prospective employers and store their degree in a digital wallet. CNM has offered digital degrees and certificates to around 2,400 of their students, and roughly 17% of the group have accepted and used it.
CNM hopes that a blockchain verification system will help employers find students with relevant skills and allow students to easily transfer credits between institutions. “We can have employers and students connect directly, where the institution doesn’t have to be a middle link,” says Tobe Phelps, senior director of online college at CNM. “Students will know immediately once they get their degree, there is a potential to get into this job network.”
Partnership of the Year: Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH)
In today’s economy, students “need more than a high school diploma, whether that’s a blue-collar certificate or something else,” says California state Sen. Anthony Portantino.
That’s why Portantino and other policymakers have pushed their states to make it easier for high schools to offer students workplace learning opportunities and college credits. P-TECH programs “erase the line between high school and community college” to ensure students graduate with career-ready skills and some college credit, says Portantino.
So far, over 500 companies and 80 community colleges partner with 110 P-TECH schools in eight states. Students at these schools have an opportunity to take on paid internships, job shadowing, and job interviews. Some are able to graduate from high school with an associate degree.
At Norwalk Early College Academy, Director Karen Amaker says that of out 69 graduate seniors, most of them had college credit, and some had completed a two-year degree. As part of their P-TECH model, the school collaborates with Norwalk Community College and IBM. “It’s working in the sense that students are understanding the importance of a college education and are committing to that” (Higher Ed Team, Education Dive, 12/3; Jacobsen, Education Dive, 12/3; Busta, Education Dive, 12/3 ; Busta, Education Dive, 12/3 ; Busta, Education Dive, 12/3 ; Schwartz, Education Dive, 12/3 ).