New Program Seeks to Reimagine College Life

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I’ve written quite a bit about students’ lack of preparation for both college and the job world. College-level educators complain that K-12 education isn’t doing its job. Meanwhile, business leaders say that colleges are failing to prepare students for real world work environments.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities, meanwhile, started LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) Employer-Educator Compact, an initiative seeking to ensure students get the experiences and knowledge base they need to succeed in the work place. On Monday in Boston, AAC&U and LEAP co-sponsored one of several regional forums for educators, employers and policymakers to “chart a plan of action” for creating more successful college-to-career pathways.

While the prolonged economic recession has caused hard times to fall on graduates of all types of institutions, liberal arts education has faced particular scrutiny from the public, media and politicians.

A survey out of Michigan State University’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute found that the people interviewing liberal arts students for jobs believe recent graduates have the work place competencies they need, but could not articulate or demonstrate their abilities and lacked several key technical and professional skills. While arts and sciences students ranked higher than their peers in skills including working in a diverse environment, communication and innovation, they lagged being in areas such as utilizing software, analyzing, and evaluating and interpreting data.

Another survey from Chegg found that science, technology, engineering and mathematics students were “slightly better prepared” than their peers. Those students fared better among employers in skills including preparedness to explain information and preparedness to solve problems through experimentation.

These concerns are not lost on the heavy hitters of higher ed policy research, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As one of the biggest funders of education policy thinking, the foundation has called for a top-to-bottom reimagining of the education experience, including college.

The Next Generation Learning Challenge has selected nine colleges and universities to spend the next year re-imagining the college experience. The program, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, asks administrators to think creatively about how to use technology to lower the cost of college and spur more students to complete their degrees. Of particular interest: Competency-based models that let students earn credits for demonstrating skills, rather than logging hours in a classroom. Participating institutions include Austin Community College, Paul Smith’s College, the University of New England, and Empire State College, part of the SUNY system.

Next Generation Learning Challenges accelerates educational innovation through applied technology to dramatically improve college readiness and completion in the United States. It is a collaborative, multi-year initiative focused on identifying and scaling technology-enabled approaches to dramatically improve college readiness and completion, especially for low-income young adults. NGLC, therefore, addresses college readiness and completion as a continuum of interrelated issues spanning secondary and postsecondary education. The program provides grants, gathers evidence about effective practices, and works to develop a community dedicated to these persistent challenges.

NGLC re-imagines the future of student success with IT as an essential enabler, making customized, interactive learning possible. IT also makes it possible to extend the reach and multiply the benefits of such innovations for the thousands of students who need them most. By participating in NGLC – as a grant seeker, a potential adopter, or a community member

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