Trends in the Digital Learning Landscape Part I examined trends in conventional online enrollment. Part II examines Emerging Learning Models including those based on the MOOC model and Competency Based Education. Leading institutions are innovating online in order to do well in the overall environment of declining enrollments. Some institutions see this innovation as a way to adapt to the changing needs of learners, employers, and regulators. While no single dominant disruptor has emerged to date, we see a few approaches that are gaining traction.
The Retention Counselor role is at the center of the precision managed retention system. The Counselor creates and maintains relationships with students, and is the first line of response for any student problems or concerns. Creating and maintaining an effective retention-focused relationship requires strategic and tactical outbound communications and depends upon the Counselor's judgment regarding the state of the relationship. The most common mistake we see is treating Retention Counselors as non-professional staff. Even if you are restricted in your compensation options, other benefits, considerations, and signs of importance and respect can be implemented.
Since 1985, we have developed, validated, deployed, analyzed, and reported findings on more than 12 million end-of-course assessments administered in more than 600,000 courses. For many of these assessments, we have captured, taxonomized, and analyzed the open-ended responses of students and faculty to open-ended questions about instruction, curriculum, other learners, the learning environment, and support services. These data sources have been integrated to answer the common and the not-so-common questions about the merit of end-of-course assessments. This 30 year span of work has brought me face-to-face with more practical problems, more challenges to validity and usefulness, and more inferential dead-ends than I could have imagined in my early days, days I now see as naive in retrospect.
Some of us have advised others as to the importance of allocating enough revenue to R&D to secure the future viability of an organization. As a percent of revenue, that number varies from a few percent to as much as 20 percent, as dictated by the nature of the product or service and the environment in which it is offered. Spend too little, and you risk becoming marginalized and, eventually, replaced. Spend too much . . . well, there are too few cases from which to generalize.
Incorporating the modern learning sciences into one's teaching behavior produces almost immediate benefits and is not particularly disruptive. Faculty and students report higher levels of engagement and enjoyment, more is learned in less time, and what is learned is more behaviorally useful. As I pointed out in previous Briefings, many of those who teach already incorporate the relevant scientific findings and generalizations into their teaching practices; some do so knowingly and systematically, others arrive at science-based practices through experimentation and being sensitive to the needs of students and what methods seem to meet them best.
Enrollment in online higher education programs increased during the past few years even as overall higher education enrollment declined. Online public and private nonprofit institutions grew and captured market share compared to declines in the older for-profit programs. A few “heavyweight” institutions now dominate the online space -- and most are public or nonprofit.
It would not be necessary to write most of the following were higher education less reflective of its legacy as a guild. Few of us would visit a physician who took guidance from 1906 science yet we think nothing unusual when a professor of learning science teaches, as most do, out of a 1906 playbook. This needs to change.
Does higher education care about the unique and potentially transformative goals students have in mind when they decide to assume six figure debt and substantial opportunity cost while committing years of discretionary time to pursue a college degree? Do colleges and universities invest in learning students' goals or helping students achieve them?
Other than by chance, no predictive system will get your staff in front of an at-risk student at the exact time that an intervention is required to retain the student. Because only the student knows when his or her internal state of mind has begun to think seriously about dropping out, the institution must have established a relationship and a structure by which a student can reach out for assistance and feel comfortable doing so. Students reach out and retention is an outcome only when students have an authentic relationship with a retention counselor.
The following process measures can help managers insure that retention staff members are doing the things required to establish and maintain authentic relationships with their students. These relationships will improve performance in the incremental retention metrics summarized below as well as in the final retention-to-graduation outcome measure.
For decades, the learning and measurement sciences have told us how to optimize learning in physical and virtual classrooms. Higher education has either ignored or been slow to adopt these findings. Ironically, students now expect to consume and interact with information in ways that are consistent with what these sciences have been telling us for decades. The drivers of higher completion rates and stronger employment outcomes is also driving these changes.
Peter Wood, conservative president of the conservative National Association of Scholars, has given us a hint about how a DeVos led Department of Education might seek to change higher education. It could be important. His open letter titled "My Counsel to President-elect Trump on American Higher Education," outlines an agenda that we think resonates with the incoming administration and with nominee DeVos in particular.
Tip #1 in the Retention Series - Celebrate the Most Personal of Events
Like us, the lives of students are filled with noteworthy events, large and small. Birthdays, family and job changes, and moving into a new home are among the more common events. One event, birthdays, is already in your system.
This Briefing shows that prevailing ideas about academic quality are outmoded and inadequate when applied in colleges and universities. It shows that these shortcomings are both logical and empirical in nature and that they do not exist in comparable sectors of the economy. Executive understanding of quality matters because it affects how we write policy, set goals, compensate individuals, present ourselves to the public, and how we measure inputs, processes, outcomes, and impact to convey to others and with which to manage our and improve own practices.
In the near term, you may not be ready for a comprehensive approach to managing and improving retention. You might be looking for smaller, one-off changes that will increase retention while your institution is working through the administrative and governance processes needed to clear the way for a more efficient structural approach.
While comprehensive retention management programs can produce very high ROI ratios, adding millions of dollars to your institution's revenue stream, less comprehensive efforts can also produce relatively high returns, even if the magnitude of effect is less. All levels of effort can improve student satisfaction, institutional effectiveness, and quality referrals.
How we conceptualize retention carries implications for how to improve it. This Executive Briefing provides a senior-level summary of an evidence-based way to think about retention. Related briefings focus on interim tactical, and long-term strategic, steps that can be taken to retain students to a successful conclusion of their course of study.
A recent article in the Chronicle reported issues on the minds of college administrators and faculty as they contemplate the future of higher education. One arguably important issue - whether college instruction and evaluation should conform modern learning and evaluation sciences - was not mentioned. This omission is odd in light of growing concerns about costs, outcomes, institutional effectiveness, impact, time-to-degree, and other matters that rest on effectiveness and efficiency.
In 2010, I recommended that our clients buck the tide of six percent year-on-year tuition increases. Instead of raising tuition and fees, or even holding the line, I suggested that they reduce the cost of attending, and that they seek the net revenue numbers they desired though increased margins brought about by increased retention, better content management and delivery systems, and launching new and needed programs while phasing out legacy programs for which there was no longer any demand.
The only change I am making in today's recommendation is to elevate the importance of this goal.
The prevalence of a pre-scientific mentality is not limited to traditional college classrooms; it extends to MOOCs, an education model that is pedagogically similar to (albeit technologically advanced over) the correspondence schools that used to be advertised on the insides of matchbook covers. To be clear, there is an audience for MOOCS, just as there was a valid audience for the matchbook correspondence schools.