From the bookshelf: Profiles in higher ed transformation

Wired For Success book coverA few moons back I had the privilege of being interviewed by Susan Aldridge (president of Drexel University Online and former president of the University of Maryland) and Kathleen Harvatt about business model innovation. The duo had been commissioned by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities to write a book that offers practical advice on revolutionary transformations reshaping higher education.

For my part, I shared the extraordinary journey I traveled with a group of students, faculty, advisors and administrators at Utah State University (USU) to experiment with a new student-centered approach to transformation that proactively put students in the driver’s seat of the institution’s internal innovation activities.

I’m so thrilled that Susan and Kathleen chose to profile the case story in their new book, Wired For Success: Real-World Solutions for Transforming Higher Education. I will also add that it’s not too shabby to have the work portrayed through the lens of Steve Denning and his concept of “radical management.”

Student-led innovation is no ordinary platform for transformation. By putting students at the center, and presenting real-world challenges of the education system, students at USU were given the opportunity to use research and design methodologies to find fresh, new approaches to support student success and timely and appropriate progress toward degree completion.

What began with a simple idea to test how far we could go with this concept of “student-led innovation” has since resulted in the radical overhaul of student services, a brand new online student service delivery model, an outcome-driven approach to curriculum development and a student engagement model that helped to ultimately change the cultural fabric of an institution.

It’s not too often a book comes along that combines theory and practice and tackles the elusive challenge of transforming higher education. In its entirety, Wired For Success explores the learning experiences, environments and technologies, institutional structures, and strategies that are being led by academic “gazelles”–fast-running thought leaders at public and private colleges and universities across the nation.

Stephen Joel Trachtenberg calls the book both inspirational and intimidating. And he’s right. In “burning platform” fashion, the industry as a whole is at a crossroads. Nearly half of the nation’s colleges and universities are no longer generating enough tuition revenue to keep pace with inflation. (Source: Wall Street Journal, 11/22/13) Now is the time for experimentation and model innovation.

The good news is that several “pockets of genius” are stepping up to the plate to deliver real value for students and faculty and cost-effectiveness for the institution. Within the pages of Wired For Success you’ll find several case studies that highlight everything from new e-learning, financing, and pricing business models to effective outsourcing of selected programs and services to virtual and physically combined campuses and formation of partnerships and consortia to increase value and reduce costs.

I’m delighted to see the USU case story part of the narrative. Because if one outcome is clear from our experiment, it’s the need for increased and consistent student choice and student voice within higher education. By building young people’s capacity, skills and competencies and, strengthening their ownership of the results, student-led innovation creates the right kind of environment for ongoing experimentation, culture change and radical engagement. It might just be the missing link to systemic change in higher education.

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