Published on 2016/10/31

Mapping Higher Ed’s Future: Introducing the Innovation Initiative

The EvoLLution | Mapping Higher Ed’s Future: Introducing the Innovation Initiative
As higher education’s new era draws closer, it’s critical for institutional leaders to understand what the students of tomorrow will actually want from their postsecondary experiences, and who those students will be.

Oregon State University is in the first phase of a year-long initiative to identify innovative ideas that will have a positive impact on learner success and future revenue generation for the institution. After eight years as the associate provost for outreach and engagement, I have stepped into a new role as the Special Assistant to the Provost for Innovation. I have assembled a six-person innovation team with the charge to identify and explore under-served learner audiences that could generate new revenue for the university in the order of magnitude of $25 million if we are able identify and satisfy long-term learning needs.

In the world of innovation, there are a couple of fundamental ways to look at the process of generating new ideas. Some ideas focus on sustaining innovation, the ideas that are needed to maintain the growth and success of the core enterprise. However, there is an additional form of innovation that tends to be outside the realm of the day-to-day efforts of what can be called the “mothership.” In some cases, these new innovations may be disruptive innovation similar to the ideas described by Harvard’s Clayton Christensen. He and his colleagues would suggest these new innovations might initially be focused on unrecognized potential, but will at some point surpass the core enterprise in successfully providing value to customers—in our case, learners. Intentionally concentrating on possible disruptive innovation is not something higher education, in general, does often or well.

Our Oregon State team is focusing on identifying innovative ideas that fall into this category of new innovations, outside the sustaining innovation needed to maintain and grow existing programs. By starting with underserved audiences and focusing on their needs and wants, rather than identifying a program we already have and trying adapt it to potential needs, our innovation team is stepping away from the typical expert model that has driven higher education for more than 300 years.

One of our first steps is to reach out to identified innovators and entrepreneurs in higher education and discuss with them where they see the world of education in five to 10 years. We are benchmarking these other efforts to document what other higher education leaders see coming next. Some of these will include: CSU Global (an online enterprise linked to Colorado State), fixed price degrees at Georgia Tech, the EdPlus program at Arizona State, the entrepreneurial incubators at 1871 in Chicago and 1776 in Washington D.C., and InsideTrack (a corporate education coaching service), among others.

The process we have charted begins with looking at the overall needs and demands of certain business, governmental and social sectors. In order to be successful in the next decade, what will be required of the food industry, tech sector, sports merchandising, retailing, local and national government, and/or entertainment industries (as examples)? Learner audiences initially under review include young entrepreneurs, adult learners with some college, community college transfer students, professionals in need of advanced degrees, individuals who may benefit from competency-based education and Native American students, among others. The innovation team has begun a more granular look to understand the potential linkages, magnitude, motivations, resources available and whether these audience needs fit into the current or future competitive advantage of Oregon State educational programs.

The critical aspect of our effort will come when identified audience segments and their unique needs, wants and motivations are cross-linked with the new capabilities in education that technology and other pedagogical tools bring us. At that point we will develop prototype educational experiences to test (and re-test) with target audiences. As we refine the opportunities with target audiences of sufficient size and interest, we’ll develop full business models that project realistic revenue generation.

The Innovation Team expects to deliver up to three investment grade proposals by June 2017. These proposals will include a review of the market potential—including size and depth of the target audiences, analysis of prototype testing and retesting, the value proposition the university provides these target audiences. The review will also include its link to the university’s competitive advantages—meaning what is it we do best for these new audiences, the timeline to potential fruition, and the investment required along with the potential return on that investment. In addition, the team expects to have a pipeline of potential ideas that can be brought to reality over time and the factors associated with the timing of their potential success.

We are under no false assumption that this will be easy or even successful. However, we are committed to see what we can do. Disrupting from within does not appear to be a well accepted strategy in the corporate world, but we’re betting it has some value in education. Watch The EvoLLLution as we will be posting regular updates on our progress.

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