Redefining Norms Critical to Sustained Relevance in the Changing Postsecondary Environment

The EvoLLLution | Redefining Norms Critical to Sustained Relevance in the Changing Postsecondary Environment
Sticking to the status quo will end in disaster for most postsecondary institutions. To stay relevant, institutions have to rethink all aspects of the higher education product, from programming to student support to organizational models.

Higher education has existed for over a millennium in an effectively unchanged state, but the impetus to transform has arrived. Fast-changing labor demands, evolving learner expectations and transformed market realities are forcing college and university leaders to rethink the traditional postsecondary model and find ways to serve the growing numbers of lifelong learners. This idea has been broadly articulated as the 60-Year Curriculum (60YC), and executing on this vision demands a fundamental change in how higher education institutions must operate to serve students. In this interview, Hunt Lambert expands on the 60YC vision and shares his insights into how the organizational models of postsecondary institutions need to evolve to adapt to this approach.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): How does adopting the 60-Year Curriculum model shift the standard vision of how higher education operates?

Hunt Lambert (HL): Higher education was built around the concept of disciplinary education to undergraduates, master’s and PhD students who are headed into a three-phase life: Childhood and education the first 18 to 25 years; then work for ages 18 to 65; then retirement for about 10 years. The model is a near-perfect fit for a growing industrial economy that needs about 20 percent college graduates.

Since the emergence of the global economy, rapidly evolving knowledge work and much longer lives in the West, it is clear people will live 4-, 5-, 6-, and even 7-stage lives. Higher education needs to evolve to serve the learner from before they arrive in college through after they retire to help citizens be great professional, civic and social contributors. We tell our children they need to be lifelong learners, but so far higher education has not changed to purposefully serve their lifelong needs.

The 60YC proposes that higher education providers, who happen to be best in the world at knowledge creation and dissemination through well-designed curriculum, expand that curricula concept from the current two-year AA, four-year BA, two-year master’s and seven-year PhD learning models into a 60-year model inclusive of 15- to 75-year-old learners and, most likely, beyond.

Evo: Why is this shift to serving students over their lifetime necessary?

HL: If higher education does not rise to this challenge, then Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Google, Salesforce and others will. One can argue they already have with ideas like Salesforce Trailhead, Microsoft Education and Amazon Education. I am a glass-half-full person so I see many ways that higher education can grow its value to learners. But I am also a pragmatist and a recovering serial entrepreneur who can see the need and know exactly how I would solve the problem if I were one of them, and I’d also keep all the money and data.

The easy part for higher education is the courses and programs. With powerful local brands, many universities can be educational product aggregators of their own and others’ great learning experiences. We can package them for learners on campus, online and in hybrid modes according the learners need and goals.

The hard part for higher education is the services like life coaching, lifelong career coaching and community building. All are needed to keep a learner attached to your brand. If many universities do not do this well, a few global brands will earn all this relationship equity and everyone else will only serve local workforce needs. That would be a huge loss for diversity and knowledge creation, so I encourage all colleges and universities to figure out their role in the 60YC.

Evo:  We’re seeing universities partnering on content delivery, either with other institutions or with outside firms that deliver programs such as bootcamps. How does this trend play into the larger shift in the role colleges and universities are serving for learners?

HL: One part of the emergence of the internet and the knowledge/information/services economy is that in almost every category, information about something is more valuable than that particular thing itself. Airlines almost all went bankrupt, but not the reservation systems. Hotels consolidated around reservation systems, not room ownership. The largest taxi company today owns no cars, the largest retailer owns almost no stores and the largest hotelier owns not a single room.

Future leaders in higher education will be the masters of information about great learning experiences that help the learners in their network get the right learning at the right time. That could be through an MBA on campus, a stackable graduate certificate, a coding bootcamp online or an intensive hybrid professional development program. Of course, each school will need to qualify each experience to meet their brand goals, but in the long run any individual school is unlikely to supply more than 20 percent of any learners’ solutions from their faculty-based degree programs.

The winners will have an information-based learner relationship management system business, not a teaching- and learning-based business.

Evo: How does this movement toward serving lifelong learners impact the business model of a traditional institution?

HL: The top universities will find all of this optional. Large endowments and very large extramural research funding will allow the top few to succeed in the traditional model of higher education.

For the rest, they need to find the right balance between academic controls—which, typically, are rigid—and new flexible packaging built around learners’ needs that still has curricular integrity for that school.

Curricular integrity in the 60YC model has a different meaning than a university department. It means that in addition to the traditional, time-based learning offerings—which are likely the best in the world learning experiences for those who can immerse themselves in a full-time residential experience—the school must also offer modular, stackable and portable credentials for part-time learners who cannot control time and place of learning. This needs to be packaged for professional relevance and wrapped with highly personalized services for a relationship lasting at least 60 years.

Evo: What role must Professional and Continuing Education (PCE) leaders play in facilitating this shift on their own campus?

HL: PCE leaders are the only groups in most higher education institutions that know how to do what the 60YC learner demands.

In the 60YC framework we are advancing, as so well-articulated by Rovy Branon of Continuum College at the University of Washington, there are five things PCE units can do to lead their universities safely into this future:

1. Design and implement the new credentialing system that is a superset of degrees and democratizes the credential ownership using capabilities like digital badges, digital certificates and blockchain-type security.

2. Define and build the long-term meta-curriculum framework and establish that in academic policy.

3. Implement the services needed to win the loyalty of learners in your ecosystem without denying them access to others’ offerings.

4. Build the new academic stack of technology platforms and applications. This is a CRM-based solution set that starts and ends with the learner, not an SIS-type solution that starts and ends with the school’s approved catalog and degrees.

5. Advocate to restructure state and federal support for postsecondary education, and work with companies for better tuition reimbursement plans so adults do not need to increase their $1.5 trillion of existing student debt to stay relevant at work. This includes being relentless in driving costs out of the offerings so tuitions remain accessible to talent that is otherwise excluded.

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Key Takeaways

  • For non-elite postsecondary institutions, success in the future will rely on their capacity to build and maintain lasting relationships with learners, not on their teaching and learning capabilities.
  • If colleges and universities don’t evolve to address the changing needs of today’s (and tomorrow’s) students, private industry will—and in many cases already has.
  • Professional and continuing education teams should be on the forefront of their respective institutions’ transformation toward delivering a 60YC as they are already working to serve this audience.