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A Call for Innovation and Collaboration in Higher Ed

Kevin Harrington
May 10, 2024
6 mins

Every year, millions of students set foot on college campuses across the country, only to face the harsh reality of overwhelming student loan debt, regret over their choice of major, and the challenge of finding meaningful employment after graduation. The landscape of higher education is shifting, with declining enrollment and a growing skepticism about the value of a college degree leading to financial crises on campuses nationwide. Program cuts and college closures have become all too common as institutions struggle to adapt to a rapidly changing world.

The traditional higher education model was designed for a different era, one that no longer exists. Colleges have failed to keep pace with the evolving needs of students and the demands of the modern workforce. Academic programs have remained stagnant for decades, leaving graduates ill-prepared for the realities of today's job market. The governance structures of many schools are outdated, hindering the ability of faculty leaders to enact meaningful reforms.

"More than anything else, what's broken with higher ed right now is the academic programming model."

As demographic trends and concerns about return on investment continue to impact the sector, colleges are facing unprecedented revenue declines. Budget cuts are inevitable, with academic programming costs comprising a significant portion of operating expenses. It is clear that a new approach to academic program development is needed if higher education is to survive and fulfill its promise of upward economic mobility for students.

The academic program model of the future must be flexible, student-centered, and collaborative. Traditional program development processes are costly, time-consuming, and often result in failure. Institutions must prioritize programs that support career outcomes, are financially sustainable, and align with student desires of flexibility and convenience in online learning.

At Rize, we advocate for a program evaluation rubric that considers student demand, outcomes, partner college input, and teachability. By leveraging frameworks either internally or through partners like Gray Decision Intelligence's Program Evaluation System, institutions can determine the best program mix for their unique market. Supporting students through their educational journey with a focus on outcomes is essential for ensuring the value of a college degree.

Career navigation courses, industry connections, and relevant course content are key components of preparing students for success in the workforce. By bridging the gap between academic advisors and career navigation, institutions can better equip students with the skills they need to thrive post-graduation. Collaboration with industry leaders and other institutions, particularly through The Lower Cost Models for Independent Colleges Consortium, can help institutions stay agile and responsive to changing market conditions.

The future of higher education lies in innovation and adaptability. By embracing collaboration and incorporating career-focused skills into their curriculum, colleges can better prepare students for the demands of the modern workforce. Restoring pathways to fulfilling employment is crucial for the long-term success of higher education and for making the American Dream accessible to all.

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