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Creating Educational Heliotropism: Adult Learners, America Needs You Back! (Part 4)

The EvoLLLution | Creating Educational Heliotropism: Adult Learners, America Needs You Back! (Part 4)
Even with the budget constraints challenging colleges and universities today, it’s possible to create high-quality and highly accessible programs that support the attainment goal.

Part IV: Innovative Ideas to Support Students: Removing the Cost-Prohibitive Barriers

This is the fourth and final installment in Cheryl Hayek’s series, Creating Educational Heliotropism. Over the past three installments, Hayek has reflected on the nature of today’s postsecondary environment, discussed the challenges standing in the way of degree completion and explored how institutions could improve retention and completion rates through the lens of veteran student support. In this final installment, Hayek shares a few ideas on how colleges and universities can overcome and remove cost barriers that stand in the way of postsecondary access for so many American.

Working Lean to Give Students More: Quality Courses with Measurable Outcomes

Faculty and students alike want quality courses that lead to transferrable learning outcomes to employers. Ensuring that excellence exists is central to every institution’s role in dedicating itself to a culture of assessment, continuous improvement and institutional effectiveness. In light of today’s budget restrictions and downturn in enrollments many are experiencing, it is possible to have it all?

Combatting Prohibitive Costs

Funding for and selection of credentialed professionals in areas such as institutional effectiveness, institutional research, accreditation, curriculum and/or assessment are fundamental to what is often an iterative year-over-year process involving multiple budget cycles, extensive staffing exercises, as well as the implementation of processes to support those positions. Similarly, it is not always possible to invest in software and third-party analytic solutions to assist in the monitoring and measurement of the intended quality initiatives institutions undertake.

No matter what type of institution, today’s universities are often experiencing shrinking endowments, state budget cuts and lower enrollments. Notwithstanding these issues, many are still trying to avoid tuition increases. Fiscally responsible faculty and administrators want to give students more even when working on a lean budget with minimal staff. In addition, for those institutions who are stewards of students’ external funding sources (Federal Financial Aid, Military Tuition Assistance, third-party scholarships, etc.), the integrity of course and program quality and the commitment to student learning outcomes attainment while keeping tuition affordable are paramount to university administrators’ roles as responsible overseers of those tuition dollars.

Mission Possible: Innovative Leadership Taps Into Postsecondary Community Resources

One of the best qualities of the higher education community is the collegiality to exchange ideas so that we can all help students from what we’ve learned and implemented at our own institutions. In that spirit, I’d like to share with you what one of the oldest accredited distance learning institutions in the United States did to increase course quality. With a mission that revolves around serving the underserved, it has not raised tuition in more than 10 years. The university faculty, staff and board were committed to continuing that tradition, yet simultaneously demanded maintaining the academic quality and rigor for students. They turned to the academic department for solutions. The provost, deans and faculty sought ways to measure institutional effectiveness and quality course design in a more robust way as part of their commitment to a culture of assessment, yet they were simultaneously aware of the economics required to serve the underserved and maintain tuition rates for program excellence.

They found a way to do both. During the 2015 academic unit strategic planning process and budget preparations, the faculty, curriculum design team and academic administrators reviewed the costs of third-party peer online course-quality review services. Though the services were valuable, the academics team believed that augmenting pre-existing open source rubrics with specialized programmatic accreditor needs (e.g., ABET, ACEN, IACBE), program-leveling guides, industry alignments (e.g., PMI, SHRM) and the best online retention and course design practices, as well as their own institutional student demographic to incorporate andragogical elements within the course design, they could create a more institutionally valid yet industry- and program-aligned rubric to assess course quality without incurring additional costs. As a result of over a year of effort, during 2016, they developed and tested their VIP Course Design Rubric leaning also on well known course quality tools such as the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Scorecard and Blackboard’s Exemplary Course Rubric. Using inter-rater reliability, over 10 faculty and deans scored 20 redesigned courses using the rubric with positive results. The subsequent go-live launches of those refreshed courses have earned extremely positive early indications from student satisfaction surveys and faculty reactions.

What’s Next?

In October 2016, they launched an eight-week online course design session required of all faculty who will be designing courses with the curriculum and instructional design team’s support. The fall 2016 outcomes assessment cycle will measure the learning attainment from the first cohort of redesigned courses. Faculty and administrators have a positive outlook because promising course completion rates from the first eight-week terms already show an early indication of success.

Working lean and tapping into the innovation and knowledge of the academic team enabled them to keep their promise of quality courses with measurable outcomes to students, accreditors and regulators. Measureable quality first is always possible when we work together and think outside of the box.

Reflect back on the rest of the series:

Part I: The 2020 College Completion Goal: Adult Learners, We Want You Back!

Part II: Eliminating the Degree Attainment Barriers: Institutional, Dispositional and Situational 

Part III: Research into Practice: The Blueprint for Military Postsecondary Retention

Part IV: Innovative Ideas to Support Students: Removing the Cost-Prohibitive Barriers

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