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Nancy Zimpher on A New Model for Education

Nancy Zimpher on A New Model for Education

SUNY, New York City (Feb. 27, 2014)
An interview by The Economist Intelligence Unit
The system change that’s most noticeable is that our business model is now upside down. It is no longer what it used to be. Public institutions expect state appropriations. They’ve been radically reduced. The cost of college for private institutions and public, as well, is going up, so we have huge issues of student debt and the cost of college.

I am reminded of President Obama and Secretary Duncan and this notion of the Iron Triangle, that we have to attend to affordability. We also have to attend to accountability, so the transparency of data and outcomes, and then the foundation of innovation, which we take to mean this massive shift to digital-enabled learning. That triangle really describes the new business model, if you will, and why the way we used to do it just isn’t working anymore. 

Open SUNY: Expanding Education 

I think we’ve all gotten our arms around this notion of disruptive innovation, and I think digital is at the top of the list. Open SUNY is the State University of New York’s effort to deliver a broader base of instruction, courses and degree programs online, exclusively online, or online or on campus, to as many students – college-age and adult – as possible, to make sure that students and adults are ready for the work force of today and tomorrow. So we’re really focusing on online programs in high-demand fields, because we know the outcome is you’ll get a job.

We think that we can shorten not only the time to degree but the cost of college for our students, so that’s part of our business model. We think we can grow our enrollments, and we have state appropriation based on our enrollments, and we think that online learning is a way to get more students to completion.

The inspiration for Open SUNY was to expand, to the largest degree possible, our digital delivery system for teaching and learning. We now have six campuses offering eight online degree programs that carry the characteristics of a tutoring support system, internships and applied learning, assessment for prior learning experience, and hopefully a shortened time to degree. We will, over the next three years, serve approximately 100,000 new students at SUNY.   

New Systems for Teaching and Learning 

I think there’s a fundamental worry on everybody’s part that what’s been working for us in the teacher-to-student relationship and the faculty professor-to-student will somehow be damaged, or will go into default. In the digital world, you present a lesson, as a faculty member, and you find out instantly what the students’ questions are, what they’re not understanding. In the digital world, you present a lesson, as a faculty member, and you find out instantly what the students’ questions are, what they’re not understanding. 

The Future of Education 

When I think about presidents and chancellors who are going to take these pretty complex positions going forward, I think the vision they have to carry into the job is really societal need. I would hope for every new leader in our sector, they would come with a commitment to solving those societal challenges, and that’s exactly what we’re able to do in this digital age. I would say, on the horizon is this massive expectation that we are going to educate more people, we’re going to educate a much more diverse population, a global population. And it’s time. It’s high time. We’ve done this pretty much the same way for, not decades but centuries, and I think the door opened by the digital revolution is opening us to a whole new clientele that’s really going to change the profile of higher education for the better.