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By the Numbers: Helping Presidents Meet Challenges and Innovate Solutions



By Louis Soares

Presidents’ Challenge

College and university presidents are pivotal figures in the nation’s pursuit of global competitiveness, economic opportunity, and an engaged citizenry. They lead a diverse ecosystem of 4,600 higher education institutions that provide the education and research that are critical to individual success and our national prosperity.

But this ecosystem is now beset by many challenges: Revenue sources are not keeping up with costs, and rising tuition is raising concerns. Learning and attainment levels are not keeping pace with the nation’s economic needs. Consensus is building for change, and postsecondary presidents are feeling the pressure. But to frame, study, and promote responsible change, presidents and public policymakers need a common framework to responsibly promote emergent higher education best practices that help the nation achieve its education goals.

ACE’s Response

Building on its long history of benchmarking studies on institutional and academic leadership, globalization of higher education, and diversification of faculty, staff, and students, the American Council on Education has created a Center for Policy Research and Strategy to spread thought leadership at the frontier of public policy and institutional strategy.

The center is built on the traditional values of higher education, including access for all citizens, academic freedom, and institutional autonomy. Its premise is that the experimental, good, and best practices inherent in diverse institutional strategies are an asset that can be used to further educational attainment goals. A key variable in realizing the scaled value of these practices is how they interplay with technology and public policy, including regulatory and financing regimes.

The center will conduct research, convene stakeholders, and publish analyses that provide senior institutional leaders and public policymakers with an evidence base to responsibly promote and scale emergent best practices.

Framework of Postsecondary Change

In order to structure a systematic study of the interplay between institutional strategy, technology, and public policy in higher education change, we have adapted a four-part framework of change to guide our thinking and analysis, illustrated and explicated below:

  1. Institutional Models: This component of the framework encompasses the different types of institutions that deliver higher education—e.g., community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, nonprofits, and for-profits—and how they organize resources and processes to create value and accomplish their missions.
  2. Technology: In all sectors of the economy, new technologies transform the processes used to achieve goals. In the higher education context, technology tools currently transforming practice include technology-enabled learning, social media for learning and counseling, and learning management systems, among others.
  3. Education Partner Networks: This component of the framework encompasses any partners that a higher education institution may work with to achieve its mission, including other higher education institutions, content providers, research partners, assessment providers, credentialing services, library services, and student support services.
  4. Public Policy and Standards Environment: The dynamic mix of technology, institutional models, and delivery networks creates entirely new ways of providing education and organizing resources. The results can include new standards for postsecondary quality, as well as a new mindset regarding financing and regulation. Examples of public policy and standards in higher education include accreditation, degree qualifications, competency based credit, financial aid, and articulation.

We will use this framework of change to help us form hypotheses and design research questions in light of available and reliable data sets. Please stay tuned to this page and other ACE communication venues for emergent research on competency based education, intellectual property and open education resources, and the next-generation degree-completion institution.

College and university presidents have much to contribute to public policy decisions regarding improved educational outcomes for students and the nation. ACE’s new Center for Policy Research and Strategy aims to provide them with the evidence-based tools to lead the conversation about higher education’s future.

Louis Soares is ACE’s vice president for policy research and strategy.



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