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The first 60 days: A retrospective

I’ve officially completed my first two months at The Iron Yard. I’ve moved the campus to a location across the hall from our permanent space, navigated the halfway point through graduation of my first student cohort, built connections with our existing and growing advisory board of local tech companies, and continued to develop our strategy for engaging our next cohort of students starting this October.

I’ve connected with tech influencers and reporters in DC, developed the foundation for additional partnerships for the DC Campus, and assisted with the expansion of the DC operations and team.  I’ve attended meetups, met with representatives across higher education, non-profits, k-12 education, local and national government, business developers, recruiters, developers, and even started writing a little code myself.

crashcourse_brianfleduc_codingI’ve navigated everything from difficult student conversations, regulatory visits, and challenges with furniture deliveries.This role feels like the synthesis of the broad range of my experiences, requiring operational acumen, relationship management, community engagement, student support, marketing and branding.

And despite being challenging and frustrating (as any fire hose of new information and experiences can be) at times,it’s been a blast.

I look forward to this week, and to “Demo Day“– the “reveal” of our student’s work to the DC technology community to an audience of more than 50- one that serves as the physical representation of the network, community, and connections that I’ve been so lucky to build through meetups, coffee, emails, and social media over the last two months.

What’s more, I’m excited for the work ahead at The Iron Yard, and the dedication and commitment to increasing diversity in technology that’s been shared and supported by the highest ranks of our government.  A bright path is ahead!

What Your Next Transcript Might Look Like (and who is working on it)

I’ve already used this space to provide some context for the disruption that’s coming from recent developments in federal financial aid, code academies and the possible disruptions that (could) take place. Others outline the broader skills/bootcamps/credentialing landscape more succinctly, so I won’t focus time in this post on that topic– in summary, because it’s no longer a matter of if, but when these initiatives will begin to really take root; and we’re getting close. Why? Because Foundations, Universities, Think Tanks, and Startups are already sowing ground on the topic.

While the early conceptions of College Credit Recommendation Service facilitated by ACE (established in 1974) have aimed to “connect workplace learning with colleges and universities by helping students gain access to academic credit for formal training taken outside traditional degree programs,” a new  era of assessing, capturing, and translating learning seems to be  underway.

The Lumina Foundation (a University Innovation Alliance (UIA) Partner) have provided grant funding to American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (in the ballpark of ~$1.4M for this particular project, although  it feels like a few hundred million have been spread across the various projects I’ll reference in this post) in supporting a number of innovative Universities specifically on the topic of an alternative transcript (to include both “curricular and co-curricular” student learning outcomes). More broadly, Lumina has a defined strategic priority of grantees focused on “Alternative Credentialing”  that has (at least some) roots back to work in 2008 around Degree Qualifications Profiling, developing out a “set of reference points for what students should know and be able to do upon completion of associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees – in any field of study” (DQP).

Along with involvement in the UIA and alongside the Lumina Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (among a number of others) are working with EDUCAUSE to partner around exploring a set of Next Generation Learning Challenges along 2- and 4-year institutions to explore innovative competency-based learning models.

In short– once we understand and agree upon how we assess, we connect the dots around what data we collect, how it’s captured, and the way it’s displayed.

And some are actually already exploring.  IPASS (Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success) Grants have networks and connections across nearly all of these other groups, reflecting the effect that downwind, the technologies that track and measure progress, and the systems and infrastructure that support learning process that are skill and competency based, will require a different-in-kind approach.

Degreed is working on “Jailbreaking the Degree,” capturing learning across any number of points of interaction– MOOCs, online coursework, Podcasts, and Boot Campus (as a few) noting “there is no single path to expertise.” As an enterprise and “lifelong  learner” solution, it will force the hand of others to take action to continue to remain relevant.

And you might be thinking ‘yes, lot’s of people are talking,’ and ‘what does this have to do with my transcript?’ I’m confident that with Foundations planting seeds, Universities engaging, and ACE continuing to integrate the topic into conversations with Senior Academic Leaders (as recently as last month), we’re only getting started.  Industry continues to reflect that students aren’t entering the job market with the skills needed to be successful, and code academies (among numerous others), are trying to supplement the gaps to ensure that employees have both the opportunities and the preparation to explore new terrains as they appear.

While many Universities have taken a dive head first with establishing badges or other micro-credentials, others are betting on a human-centric design approach, and (alongside partners like Lumina and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), are engaging Design Thinking to explore the  problem, understand the challenges, and prototype solutions in a thoughtful, concerted way.  Very, very cool- higher education taking it’s own reflection, research, and innovative, iterative processing and trying new things- noting just how difficult it may feel.  Kathleen deLaski described it perfectly, noting that many university leaders were frustrated with “how to build the new plane while flying the old one,” but seeing several university leaders I work with in my higher education consulting practice pictured taking part in these activities further solidified my promise in our progress.

So while your transcript today reflects courses you checked off to earn a degree and the relative performance assessment given subjectively by your professor, someday in the (not so) distant future, it may be a living, breathing reflection of the knowledge, skills, and experienced gained throughout your experience along the way (globally across the institution), and assist in connecting the dots to engage a new industry or career (as a t-shaped professional, or otherwise).

The Arms Race in Technology Education: Smart HigherEd Partnerships and the Code Academy

Through my work in student success at a higher education research, technology, and consulting firm, I see and feel the pulse of higher education in the practice and influence on their policies, programs, and purse-strings every day. Universities are feeling declining enrollments,  increasingly more diverse student populations, unsustainable financial aid practices, and the value of college being brought into question through massive student loan debt, all of which have placed a premium and focus on quality education at scale while maintaining university enrollment by retaining students.  With my work in the growing technology arm of the firm, I find myself following closely the trends at the intersection of education and technology.

I would go so far as to say that innovations in technology (specifically the delivery of education in tech) will only place more pressure on universities to evolve, noting that economic trends and industry demands are likely to continue to create exert pressure on traditional higher education models.  In fact, in October the Department of Education announced a pilot partnership with “non-traditional providers” of post-secondary education, stating:

As part of ED’s experimental sites authority under HEA, EQUIP will accelerate and evaluate innovation through partnerships between colleges and universities and non-traditional providers of education, such as intensive “boot camps” building skills in particular fields, specific programs awarding certificates aligned to employer needs, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Eligible programs will lead to a degree or certificate, build students’ transferable academic credits, and provide students with the ever-changing skills they need for today’s economy. The experimental sites authority allows the Secretary to waive certain provisions regarding federal financial aid in order to improve the results achieved with federal student aid dollars. (Source: DOE Blog, Homeroom)

While in many ways this feels like the most divisive approach to supporting alternate forms of education, it also serves as a signal of things to come– federal pressure on higher education to consider more innovative, collaborative approaches that are skills-based, and economically driven.

In fact, some universities are already ahead of this curve, with SNHU Sandbox Collaborative positioning  central questions of their work on partnerships and “immersive learning,”: 

  • How can we better partner with government, business and industry to find solutions to the country’s most pressing challenges in higher education?
  • How do we participate in building the next generation of performance-based assessments and immersive learning environments? (Source: NextGen Learning)

In fact, SNHU has already begun taking steps in the direction of formalizing these types of partnerships.

Others, like General Assembly, are subtly taking note.  What’s more, visionaries in higher education like Arizona State University are formalizing tech-based partnerships like the Global Freshman Academy with edX, “a first-of-its-kind program that offers a unique entry point to an undergraduate degree” (Source: ASU.edu).  And Apollo Education Group, the holding company of the University of Phoenix, is betting on Greenville, SC based code academy, The Iron Yard.

As private/public partnerships continue to become more commonplace, might there be a day when the code academy/highered partnership reflects the holistic education that has reinforced the value of the liberal arts?  With web and software developers, system analysts, and administrators occupying 4 of the top 10 most in-demand jobs of 2016 and growth projections from the Bureau of Labor statistics bullishly projecting demand for software developers ranging from 28% to 32% (depending on the type of software development), it’s a smart bet that we’d see partnerships grow, especially as recently noted by Forbes, liberal arts degrees are counted among “Tech’s Hottest Ticket.”  In a space where curriculum and job placement rates are the often touted differentiator, this point can’t be understated.

That said, in many ways, this isn’t a completely new idea– community partnerships have been a growing part of a universities local economic development and community engagement strategy.  My fear, however, is the saturation in the market as both higher education and tech begin to independently throw resources into the space.  With tech incubators, accelerators, code academies (or a hybrid), alongside co-working spaces and the culmination of all of the above, the start-up conception of this model is becoming more formalized across major markets.

However, as more and more universities launch “innovation centers” like the one at Michigan State University, I’m concerned higher educations’ investment in infrastructure over true innovation in the forward-thinking models in this space will be a missed bet.  As a result, the gray area in between ensures that the fast-paced innovation found in tech startups, and the proven student development and support models of higher education are overlooked in the process, hurting the fruits of both industries attempts to replicate and produce of successful characteristics of their counterpart.

One thing’s for sure- the innovative university, and the smart code academy will begin to think more and more strategically about formal partnerships with one another.  At least with so many code academies in the arms race for scale and entry into new markets throughout the United States, that’s my big prediction in higher ed across 2016.

What do you think?

UPDATE: 6/29/2016: Clinton introduces her plan for tech and higher ed: “The plan proposes $10 billion in federal funding (a significant amount in tight budget times, no matter who wins the election) for students to enroll in vetted boot camps, coding academies, massive open online courses and other programs run by alternative education providers, as well as providing unspecified rewards for colleges that accept those programs as credit toward graduation,” says Inside Higher Ed