L&C hosts consider the future of education

GODFREY – In today’s knowledge economy, education providers must be flexible, innovative and ever-changing to meet the needs of 21st century learners and employers.

On February 7th, Lewis and Clark Community College hosted a distinguished professor, Arthur Levine, co-author of The Great Umheaval, for a series of discussions on the future of higher education and the future of L&C.

“Team members, faculty, students and even community guests have been engaged and inspired by Levine’s astute insights,” said L&C President Ken Trzaska, who met Levine through a program he attended at Harvard while serving as president of the Seward County Community College was in Kansas.

The two reunited at the Higher Learning Commission meetings in Chicago last year.

“It’s reassuring that the college is on the right track in many ways, and we’re motivated to keep moving forward,” Trzaska said.

Levine’s book, co-authored with Scott Van Pelt, looks at the future of higher education through past, present and future lenses – its transformation in the wake of the Industrial Revolution; how other industries, including film, music and newspapers, are navigating the changing global economy and society’s increasing reliance on technology; and what colleges and universities can do to remain relevant and competitive knowledge providers in the future.

According to Levine, the transformation is happening in stages, beginning with criticism of the current model for higher education, followed by denial, then experimentation and the emergence of new models – which is where higher education is today. Several models were born during the Industrial Revolution, including technical colleges, research universities, and junior colleges (predecessors of today’s community colleges), among others. It’s not entirely clear which models will prevail this time, but Levine says L&C’s prospects are good.

“I’m here because I believe this institution could be one of those models,” Levine said.

The Great Upheaval reads like a blueprint for changes at L&C designed to better serve its students and the wider community. Levine’s campus visit, made possible by funding from the L&C Foundation, provided opportunities for L&C leaders, team members, students and others to gain insights from Levine and be part of the conversation.

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One of the biggest pushes L&C has made since Trzaska’s presidency was a major investment in the future of skills-based education that focuses on the skills learned rather than the time spent learning those skills. This outcomes-based education is the future of higher education in the knowledge economy, as opposed to the Industrial Age’s focus on sedentary times, Levine said.

L&C currently offers a Competency Based Apprenticeship (CBE) pathway in Welding alongside the more traditional pathway. The school is working to offer CBE pathways in additional programs including Information Technology.

General CBE courses are also in the works. Literature professor Jen Fuhler has become an early leader in this field, developing CBE courses in English and Literature. They’re not currently on the schedule, but will be soon, said Vice President for Academic Affairs Sue Czerwinski.

While CBE courses are currently priced the same as traditional courses, school officials said L&C is working on a potential model for offering subscription-based payment for CBE to compete with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) like Coursera and Udemy, as well as industry brands remain names like Microsoft and Google, which offer micro-credentials that are typically faster and cheaper than traditional college degrees and certificates.

“They increase competition and lower prices,” Levine said.

Czerwinski said these institutions are not bound by accreditor and grant regulations like L&C and other higher education institutions. But the college is working its way through that barrier.

While community colleges often tout their flexibility, Levine said the hype doesn’t always match reality.

L&C continually invests in flexible course offerings such as Blendflex and Hyflex that give students more control over when and how they take courses. The deals have been driven in large part by the COVID-19 pandemic, but officials said they’re unlikely to be going anywhere any time soon.

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“COVID was not a disorder; it was an accelerator,” Levine said. “We can never go back to how it was.”

Blendflex courses add a virtual component, allowing students to attend lectures via Zoom or other collaborative learning tools, rather than in person. It also allows students to switch back and forth between course modes during the semester based on their needs and schedule.

Hyflex courses take this a step further, adding an asynchronous online component so students are not required to attend class at specific times.

Currently, several degree and certificate programs can be completed entirely online or in these flexible course modes, including Accounting, Child Development, Criminal Justice, Management, Social Media Management, and Paralegal.

According to assistant professor and coordinator Louise Jett, many of the graphic design and web design and development courses are offered in Hyflex mode. Currently, each course consists of two sections – an online asynchronous section and a blendflex section (classroom + online synchronous). Students in the online area have access to video recordings from the Blendflex areas and can view the lesson at any time. Online students can also take the Blendflex courses in person or via Zoom if they wish, but they don’t have to do it like the Blendflex students do.

“Hyflex is really a game changer, especially for working adults,” Jett said. “A particularly large number of non-traditional students work full-time during the day, and some are parents. With an asynchronous online option, they can be students at night or whenever it makes sense in their lives.”

Levine’s advice for L&C was to focus on the 5 Cs: Consumer, Convenience, Content, Connections and Cost.

L&C officials said they actively seek innovative ideas and stimulate faculty through a teaching and engagement model. The model, introduced last year, provides faculty time off to work on projects that improve student access — which could include transitioning the curriculum to CBE, recruiting non-traditional students, expanding programs, and/or an expanded Program offer may include.

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Currently, 8-10 faculty members are participating in the pilot program this year.

“It’s an opportunity to try something different, something new, with some time off from teaching,” Czerwinski said. “But the common theme across all projects is to make our programs and offerings more accessible.”

L&C officials said student tastes and needs are changing, and the college must change with them. More and more are looking for customization, choice, cheaper and faster routes to a good career, and anywhere, anytime 24-hour access to professors, support, and content.

Levine said that while today’s degrees are often just-in-case education, tomorrow’s will focus on just-in-time education.

He said consumers themselves are changing. Although higher education will continue to cater to traditional students straight out of high school, potential students for this new style of education include first-generation college students, working adults, parents, and others who may not see themselves as “college material.” .

“Some don’t know what we’re doing, or they just can’t find themselves here,” Levine said. “Some have jobs; some have families. There are countless reasons why not. We have to tell them why.”

Lifelong learning is another major focus, he said. With today’s shorter half-life of knowledge and technology, students can get on and off faster. But they are also more likely to come back for additional retraining and upskilling.

He proposed that L&C be inseparable from its community to continue to stand out from the crowd. His current strategic plan includes “Key Direction 4,” which aims to expand community and educational collaboration throughout the district and region.

“Levine’s visit was incredibly inspiring,” said Czerwinski. “There is a transformation underway, and we truly believe that Lewis and Clark are poised to lead the way in shaping community college education over the next decade.”

The college is now enrolling for summer 2023 and will open fall enrollment on March 13. Visit www.lc.edu for more information.

To learn more about the college’s strategic plan, visit www.lc.edu/strategic_plan.