This Viewpoint is part of an ongoing series, “Building a brighter future: Big ideas for postsecondary education.” In this series, we ask partners and innovators what could make a difference to learners in 2021 and beyond.
Cheryl Hyman is vice president for academic alliances at Arizona State University, and former chancellor at City Colleges of Chicago.
Today, most learners who take advantage of postsecondary education do not follow a four-year, on-campus, seamless progression towards their bachelor’s degree. Many students are parents, while some work full-time in addition to their schooling. Many attend more than one academic institution along their journey. Of the 5-6 million students in 2-year institutions, 80% are in pursuit of a 4-year credential. Yet only 1 in 6 complete their bachelor’s degree within six years of starting college.
There are numerous reasons for this drop-off. Overall, it reflects a postsecondary education system that does not work to the advantage of most learners — who, in turn, are left with less opportunity to fulfill their dreams and aspirations.
At Arizona State University, we are addressing this national problem by developing and rapidly scaling technology and innovations that support all students. We are also building capabilities in the institutions that serve these individuals, primarily 1,100+ community colleges.
ASU offers tools and services to support students at every step of their learning journey, such as:
- Choosing a career and academic program.
- Planning, tracking, and supporting progress towards a degree.
- Transferring achievements seamlessly across institutions.
- Sharing skills and learning achievements with employers.
But more important than any technical solution will be instilling a new culture of innovation and learning across the nation’s community colleges.
One example of an innovative tool for community colleges is ASU’s Transfer Credit Guide. The tool brings clarity to the transferability and applicability of credit at ASU and facilitates rapid verification and approval. Through a searchable database with over 800,000 course equivalencies from other postsecondary institutions, educational experiences completed during military service, and standardized exams, community-college students can plan their educational journey towards ASU from their first day of school. The guide provides clear course recommendations, access to transfer tools, and lays out the term-by-term steps to be admitted to their major of choice.
Notably, the ASU Transfer Credit Guide emphasizes the applicability of credits, rather than simply the transfer between institutions. For too many years, community colleges have been measured and applauded for their transfer rates without any view to the actual applicability of the students’ learning towards their individual goals. ASU is addressing the required culture change head-on.
At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of all of us who are passionate about education to provide the next generation of learners with agency and autonomy. We can do this by designing systems that work for all individuals, not just the few. Ultimately, our goal is to empower learners with greater control over their academic destiny, and to measure our success by the yardstick of the progress of the people we serve.
The Charles Koch Foundation partners with social entrepreneurs to drive societal progress through academic research and innovations that help all learners realize their potential. Read more about the Foundation’s support for education.