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The Next Generation University

  • and Jeff Selingo, editor at large for The Chronicle of Higher Education; Hilary Pennington, director of the Generations Initiative; and Iris Palmer, senior associate of HCM Strategists
May 21, 2013 |
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To read the full report, click here.

As the nation struggles to find new ways to increase college access and completion rates while lowering costs, a handful of "Next Generation Universities" are embracing key strategies that make them models for national reform. The report The Next Generation University comes at a time when too many public universities are failing to respond to the nation's higher education crisis. Rather than expanding enrollment and focusing limited dollars on the neediest of students, many institutions are instead restricting enrollments and encouraging the use of student-aid dollars on merit awards. But, according to the report, some schools are breaking the mold by boldly restructuring operating costs and creating clear, accelerated pathways for students.

The report focuses on six public research universities: Arizona State University, University at Buffalo, University of California at Riverside, University of Central Florida, Georgia State University, and the University of Texas at Arlington. These universities are continuing their commitment to world class research while increasing enrollment and graduation rates, even as the investments from their states have declined. 

According to report's authors, "With the economy stuck in neutral, tuition prices and student loan debt skyrocketing, and parents and students increasingly questioning the value of a college degree, our public institutions urgently need a different approach to the challenge or educating an increasingly diverse mix of students at a reasonable cost."

The report includes case studies on each of the six universities, which were selected after an analysis of federal education data, site visits, and interviews. Based on similarities in their approaches to reform, the report's recommendations include:  

At the Institutional Level

Increase size to ensure broad access, test new ideas from pedagogy to student services, and serve growing populations. Despite cuts in state funds, public universities still have vast resources at their disposal, including well-established brand names. Universities often say they cannot get bigger without some infusion of cash or by lessening quality and excellence. But many of our institutions have increased class size without an adverse impact on retention and completion rates. A university can be high quality and big at the same time. Next Generation Universities demonstrate that size and research ambitions, enrolling high-achieving students, or attracting star faculty are not mutually exclusive strategies pursued in isolation from each other. The large universities featured in this report have discovered ways of making their campuses feel small, with living-learning communities, personalized adaptive learning technology, or separate campuses for clusters of disciplines.

Create direct connections between two- and four-year colleges to ease access for transfer students. The nation needs more than just growth in the number of students enrolled in postsecondary education; it needs more students graduating from college with degrees. Next Generation Universities successfully move students to graduation by forging strong partnerships with local community colleges. The most productive of the agreements go well beyond the usual transfer articulation pacts common in many states and closely link the two institutions, such as the University of Central Florida and Valencia College, which share facilities allowing students to finish a bachelor's degree on the campus of a two-year college.

At the State Level

Guarantee a low net-price for low-income students. Low-income students are more likely to enroll full-time and complete college when net prices are a reasonable share of family income. Research shows that targeting financial aid to the neediest students has the largest impact on college attendance and completion. Thus, states and systems should focus on tuition moderation and encourage institutions to focus aid on the neediest and away from merit-based aid.

Adopt performance-based funding. To encourage research universities to grow enrollment and serve more underrepresented students, lawmakers should base appropriations on degrees awarded rather than enrollment or graduation rates. Enrollment and graduation rates can sometimes encourage institutions to enroll students without a chance of success or focus only on admitting top-ranked students they know will complete a degree. Funding that focuses on outcomes and reaching under-served populations can provide incentives to recruit transfer students, reduce time-to-degree, and graduate more low-income students.

Create transfer policies that encourage completion. Strong state policies encourage universities to admit large numbers of transfer students from community colleges and ensure that students are appropriately prepared for upper division work in their majors. Clearly articulated statewide general education requirements, common state-wide course numbers, and major prerequisites can smooth the path for transfer students.

Ensure students in the K-12 pipeline are prepared. States should commit their K-12 systems to better preparing students for success at research universities, making sure curriculum aligns with college-readiness. Meanwhile public research universities must also commit to admitting students deemed college-ready and not just the best and brightest in an effort to increase their prestige.

At the National Level

Develop Next Generation Leaders for Next Generation Universities. Higher education faces a potential leadership crisis in the decade ahead. The median age of the college president is 61, and with many expected to retire in the coming years, the pipeline to the presidency is running dry, especially at regional public colleges. As we can see from this report, innovative ideas for reforming higher education are being tested, and in many places delivered with measurable results. But much of that work remains unfamiliar to would-be leaders interested in the vibrancy of higher education, and as a result, detached from their conversations and strategy about the future. We need to create the professional development opportunities for the next generation of leaders to build the next generation of universities.

Acknowledge that external recognition remains important in higher education, and provide recognition for increasing access and student success. Universities often pursue policies that are not in the public interest because of the hope of receiving improved rankings, awards, or publicity, which in turn help attract more students, better faculty, and bigger donations. The Next Generation Universities should be rewarded, too. We are not encouraging a new set of rankings, but outside organizations and the media should publicly recognize these universities for the bold steps they have taken and what they have achieved.

Create a demonstration program that challenges four-year public higher education institutions to innovate to:

  1. Increase access and degree production;
  2. Improve the quality of learning through greater personalization of instruction and student support;
  3. Decrease cost;
  4. Dramatically increase enrollment and graduation of students who reflect the socioeconomic and racial/ethnic profiles of their region.

This could include a competitive grant program for up to 15 public four-year universities to innovate to create Next Generation Universities. These universities would commit to expanding enrollment and graduation rates while holding tuition stable or lower. Eligible universities would have already demonstrated their capacity to serve students well, and their willingness to step up to enroll and graduate more students. They would demonstrate:

  • Commitment from high-level organizational leadership to expanding access, particularly for underserved populations, even in times of state budget cuts;
  • Development of tuition and institutional aid policies that support the institutions' financial stability while increasing demand for accelerated, lower-cost models;
  • A record of improving student support, persistence, retention and completion, for students overall and for sub-populations;
  • Demonstrable restructuring and reallocation of expenditures to support enrollment and success of many more students.

The competitive grant program would make resources available to each of these institutions to support innovations such as:

  • Use of technology to increase personalization, advise and support students, reduce time-to-degree and instructional costs, and improve learning;
  • Articulated pathways with community colleges to increase educational attainment and regional economic vitality;
  • Continuous assessment of student learning and public reporting of outcomes, including collaboration in the development of a new set of metrics which more closely measure university cost/benefit effectiveness and student/faculty success;
  • Commitment to academic excellence, particularly applied academic research that seeks solutions to regional or global challenges; expansion of interdisciplinary approaches and structures; support for entrepreneurship; and
  • Proactive responsibility for building the economic, social and cultural vitality, health and well-being of their communities.

Desired outcomes would include:

  • Improve freshman persistence to 90 percent;
  • Enhance university graduation rate to 75-80 percent;
  • Increase the number of transfer students from community colleges to the university, and their persistence to bachelor's degree completion by 50 percent;
  • Eliminate attainment gaps by income and race.

These recommendation and lessons were featured an event held at the New America Foundation on May 21st, 2013. You can watch a recording of the event here.

Download the full report here.

In addition to the report, the authors of the report released two in-depth issue briefs:

In "Technology and the Next Generation University," New America's Rachel Fishman explores the barriers to technology-enhanced education and presents promising practices Next Generation Universities employ to overcome them.

In "Formation of the Next Generation University: Role of State and System Policy," HCM Strategists' Iris Palmer, Kristin Conklin, and Nate Johnson explore how transfer policy, financial aid, net price, performance funding and the K-12 pipeline affect Next Generation Universities within their state context. It makes recommendations for state and higher-education system policymakers on how to ensure public institutions are meeting the needs of the state.

HCM Strategists, in conjunction with the release of The Next Generation University developed a new interactive tool:

Next Generation Universities: Select Dimensions of Research University Output, Productivity and Efficiency 2006-2011

This dashboard, created by HCM Strategists and Postsecondary Analytics, includes a selection of measures of public research university performance through the great recession, showing how they have fared over time and in comparison to the sector as a whole. It helps illustrate the very different ways research universities have experienced and responded to the challenges of the last several years, and which institutions have been able to sustain or grow the number of students served in spite of the financial challenges they faced.

Please note that the dashboard is a large file (2.5 mb) and may take up to a minute to load. It requires Adobe Flash, which is already installed in most browsers.

Also released at the event were two conference papers from the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University: 1) More Students, More Degrees, More Dollars: How Universities Can Close Budget Gaps while Benefiting Students; and 2) The High Price of Excess Credits: How New Approaches Could Help Students and Schools.

The Next Generation University project was funded by a generous grant from Lumina Foundation.

American public higher education is at a crossroads. We desperately need more universities willing to shift their strategies away from the race to prestige and toward ideas and policies that will help create more Next Generation Universities in the future.