Reimagining not Resuming Learning

There are several themes coming out of recent virtual conferences and articles. This year Schools that Can pivoted and made its annual forum an online event in May 2020. At one session around “Radical Changes in Educational Systems” Paul LeBlanc, the President of the University of Southern New Hampshire (SNHU), outlined how his university is rethinking the higher education experience with related changes in the cost structure. One of the keys for LeBlanc is to untether the academic and social experience of attending a higher education institution. SNHU and other universities have discovered that students do not want to pay for an online experience without the rituals and benefits of living on campus. SNHU has taken an innovative approach. They have offered the incoming class for 2020 reduced tuition in exchange for providing guidance and feedback on redesigning the learning experience at SNHU.

According to the SNHU website:

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the great uncertainty facing higher education, SNHU is accelerating its work to redefine the traditional campus-based learning model and provide more affordable, flexible, and accessible options for students and families…. We are bringing tuition down to approximately $10,000 per year for all new SNHU campus-based students.

As a result, SNHU will offer for Fall 2020 incoming freshmen:

  • An Innovation Scholarship that covers 100% of the first-year tuition (effectively making the start at SNHU tuition-free)
  • The ability to apply federal financial aid and non-SNHU scholarships to room and board costs if students choose to live on campus (room and board costs still apply)
  • A new lower annual tuition of approximately $10,000 per year to finish a degree (a 66% reduction in the current SNHU tuition rate)

Students will take their courses online, but they are still able to live on campus and participate in all campus clubs, activities, athletics, leadership development opportunities, and other vital coming-of-age experiences.

Hybrid seems to be the key for K-12 institutions as well. Stanley Thompson, the Senior Program Director for Education at the Heinz Endowments in Pittsburgh, explained on the Schools that Can panel how his organization was launching the Pittsburgh Readiness Institute (PRI). The new venture originally was scheduled to start this summer, but the Coronavirus has altered the trajectory, but not the vision. According to Stan in an article from NextPittsburgh, ““When you were in math class or chemistry class, you might have dealt with a series of problems that teachers had assigned to you, and you asked yourself, ‘What’s the relevance of this?’”

The Pittsburgh Readiness Institute is focused on applying skills and concepts to real-world problems that will be relevant for today’s learners. The concept is designed around a partnership between education, industry, and the community. According to Stan, “For example, students could apply their chemistry expertise to a community with lead in its water, or in the paint in old houses. They could test water quality, engage with researchers on the issue, learn about mitigation strategies and devise a plan for solutions.”

Students will participate in a Learn and Earn model. They will receive a stipend for attending the institute and for the related work that they do with an industry partner. “They’re going to be paid to think, and to come up with solutions for some very real problems,” says Thompson. “They’re going to be paid to collaborate. They’re going to be paid to know the importance of coming up with a prototype.”

In the process, Thompson wants to get students thinking about questions such as Who am I? Who do I want to become? How do I get there? How do I continue to grow? How do I give back to my community? The PRI experience will help students to develop the skills, attitudes and values students need for a productive life at school, on the job and in society.

In an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Grant Oliphant, president of the Heinz Endowments summarized the goals: “The idea with the readiness institute in pulling all of those elements together — including the perspective of industry and exposure to real-world problems and academic learning as part of this — is that this program is designed to help students navigate this critical transition from high school to either a job or to a learning path that will prepare them for that job.”

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