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MIT Professors Unveil a Proposal for an Affordable New Educational Institution

A New Model for Effective, Affordable Undergraduate Education

An interdisciplinary team of MIT professors has just published Ideas for Designing an Affordable New Educational Institution (NEI). NEI addresses higher education’s current challenges “with an alternate model for baccalaureate education. NEI is intended to be a new class of institution that is different from traditional R1 or R2 research universities. The focus of NEI will be on majors such as computer science and business, and eventually, broader areas of engineering and design.”

This work is worth reading in full. Many of the ideas contained in the model are familiar, but they are combined thoughtfully into a residential, holistic learning experience that makes significant use of online learning to increase instructional efficiency. The key features of the NEI are:

  • A rebalancing of education and research with a tilt toward teaching,

  • A rethinking of curriculum development and delivery, resulting in greater use of the flipped classroom model and superior open learning resources from collaborating institutions and organizations,

  • A holistic curriculum that includes the humanities and social sciences,

  • A lean campus designed exclusively for learning, stripped of the amenities offered by many institutions,

  • A bachelor’s degree as an assembly of stacked micro-credentials,

  • A more equitable and holistic approach to faculty employment and support,

  • Team teaching of course sequences that lead to micro-credentials, and

  • Strong external partnerships for internships with employers for credit and co-op opportunities.

The NEI model is designed as a stand-alone institution to demonstrate a new lean approach to undergraduate education. Existing institutions could adopt and refine many of the ideas contained in it to improve their effectiveness and affordability.

The following sections discuss how the NEI model addresses the four dimensions of reinvention that our book Transforming for Turbulent Times maintains must occur to transform an institution into a new breed of learning enterprise engaged, innovative, innovative, innovative, open, nimble, and affordable. We also touch on the eight-step transformation approach outlined in the book can be used to achieve this level of transformation at an existing institution.

How the NEI Model Addresses the Four Dimensions of Transformation

In our book, we define the four dimensions of reinvention that must occur to transform existing institutions into a new breed of learning enterprise.

The dimensions and how the NEI Model addresses them are:

Digitally Transform Processes. Institutions must digitally transform their processes – academic, academic support, and administrative- to improve faculty, staff, and students' success, wellness, and personal productivity and serve the knowledge, work, and learning ecosystem of 2030. The proposed NEI curriculum assumes extensive use of technology-rich flipped classrooms and open-source online content developed by other institutions and organizations.

Achieve a New Open Curriculum. Future-focused institutions must achieve new, open, nimble, innovative curricula capable of continuously adapting to serve the needs of learners over careers spanning 60 years or more. These curricula must be flexible and capable of continuous adaptation. Through the substantial use of open-source online content, NEI model institutions would be able to adapt quickly to changing workforce requirements and offer a high-quality curriculum at a considerably reduced cost.

Leverage Many Channels of Engagement. The future-proofed learning enterprise will utilize many engagement channels to serve learners, aggressively accelerating progress and certifying competencies acquired from other channels and providers. The NEI model turns the baccalaureate degree "into a series of micro-credentials which are stacked." This refined approach to curriculum development allows for better matching curriculum to student interests and preparation for employment.

Develop Multiple Modes of Learning. Tomorrow's open, innovative learning enterprise will provide and curate Knowledge-and-Learning- on-Demand through multiple learning modes, engaging with a far more extensive portfolio of partners and collaborators than is typical today. Integral to the NEI Model is a curriculum that would be developed in conjunction with collaborating peer institutions on content and with potential employers on content and for internship and, notably, co-op education experiences.

Although it probably goes without saying, the NEI model needs to address the question of how higher education institutions should organize beyond the baccalaureate years to serve the needs of learners over careers spanning 60 years or more. In our book, we specifically address this challenge in terms of these four dimensions.

An Approach for Implementing Transformative Change—Such as the NEI Model

Achieving change in higher education is difficult; leading and navigating such change is even more so. Over the years, it has generally proven easier to create new units, departments, or colleges than to dramatically change existing academic operations. Today's and tomorrow's new breed of learning enterprises will need to both deploy new models and digitally transform all aspects of their operations. Many will fail without transparency, collaboration, and the courage to reinvent. Others will survive but with diminished effectiveness and prospects.

To guide such transformations, we have developed an eight-step process called Transformation at a Glance, presented in our book, Transforming for Turbulent Times, and shown below. The process provides institutional leaders with an approach that creates a sense of urgency and a climate for transformation, engages and enables the whole organization to meaningfully participate in the process and shows how to orchestrate the implementation of initiatives to achieve change. Please get in touch with us for ideas, tools, and support for getting started on your transformation journey.


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