Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Utah's Missed Opportunity?

Schools that are on the cutting edge of student learning--Evergreen State, Cal State Monterey Bay, Alverno College, IUPUI, Portland State, etc.--got there either as newly created campuses or because a period of crisis required the campus to re-imagine its work.

This fact matters because the state of Utah has two campuses--Dixie State and the College of Eastern Utah--that are facing big challenges. The challenges are large enough that the Board of Regents in each instance has requested proposals for the campuses to become branch campuses of larger universities.

In doing so, the Board of Regents and the state of Utah are missing a huge opportunity. Rather than imagining how these campuses could be changed to become sustainable and create powerful learning, the state is instead imagining ways that they can become part of big, slow, unwieldy institutions already in the state.

That wouldn't matter if the University of Utah, Utah State, or the state's system of higher education had everything figured out. But this report suggests that the state has a long way to go, especially in the area of student learning outcomes, governance and stragetic planning--exactly the areas that have led to CEU and Dixie's problems.

So what if Utah used the crises at Dixie and CEU as an opportunity to create new, innovative institutions? It could do so if it focused on the following:

1. putting learning outcomes at the center of the educational experience as Alverno and IUPUI do;

2. taking advantage of open learning resources to move the role of faculty from content experts to experts in facilitating learning, as Evergreen does;

3. revising the curricula to meet the actual needs of students and the communities in which Dixie and CEU reside; as do Portland State and CSU-Monterey Bay;

4. actively recruiting students who are poorly served by the current educational system, as all of the cutting edge institutions do.

The result would be the sort of institutions where students would be guaranteed excellent, low-cost educations. In turn, those educations would serve the economic, environmental, and educational needs of communities with significant economic, environmental, and educational needs. And the rest of the institutions in the state of Utah could learn fron Dixie and CEU, rather than swallowing them up.

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