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How Might We Re-imagine the Role of Higher Education Institutions To Meet the Needs of Learners in a New Regional Ecosystem?

Kicking off a Year with the Lab’s Designers in Residence

Last month, the Education Design Lab (the Lab) introduced our inaugural cohort of Designers in Residence. These 12 higher education leaders will join together over the course of the year in a series of design sessions to tackle the question, “How might we (postsecondary leaders and our institutions) strengthen and evolve our leadership to better drive regional ecosystem alignment efforts?”

This question is not hypothetical; it is a question the Designers in Residence grapple with as individual leaders daily. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 22% fewer students enrolled in higher education than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, a number that increases to 30% for students from low-income high schools. Additionally, 42% of jobs lost during the pandemic may disappear forever, requiring postsecondary education to reimagine how learners are prepared to enter the workforce. To address these monumental changes in how learners navigate work and learning, the Designers in Residence will work together to develop a roadmap that informs how higher education institutions can adapt and innovate to respond to the changing needs of learners, employers, community-based organizations, training vendors, policy makers, industry associations, and other critical partners in the education and workforce ecosystem. 

Designers in Residence are leaders who represent a variety of institutions and hold positions of influence at comprehensive four-year colleges, community colleges, HBCUs, public, and private institutions. This is a unique opportunity for leaders across diverse perspectives in higher education to share best practices, test strategies, and examine lessons learned culminating in a platform and tangible opportunities for other institutions seeking to lead, connect, and innovate across regional education and workforce development ecosystems. 

The Designers in Residence cohort will commence their work together this month, and in preparation for collaboration, Designers have each shared their individual perspectives on the work ahead. The ideas outlined below represent some of the perspectives across rural, urban, suburban, and online institutions. These ideas provide a foundation that will guide the work of the Designers in Residence as they enter a year of innovation to drive solutions for learners and employers navigating the new ecosystem of learning, training, and career advancement.


What we are hearing from our Designers in Residence 2021 Cohort as they enter their design year:

How might we thoughtfully engage with the community?

“We reflect our communities through our employees, our mission, and our results. Our partners are an extension of us as we are to them and we have an effective and responsive data system that helps us to drive decisions and tell our story. Our communities see us as their first call in addressing needs, dealing with challenges and celebrating their success.” Lisa Larson, Eastern Maine Community College 


How might we start with, and continue, to lead with equity?

According to the US Census Bureau, 34 million Americans are living in poverty. To address this challenge for all persons regardless of social, political, and ethnic identity means to reimagine the education systems’ rudiments, rigor, and career pathways models. Collectively this will advance student access towards greater self sufficiency and family stability and will ignite the interest to expand urban community redevelopment.” —Chanel Fort, Stillman College


How might we support internal leaders and create space for transformational change?

“In a perfect world, no one has to make sense of all the moving parts we have behind the scenes. It is clear where our “front door” is and everyone that enters gets the right help. Transformational change is sustainable when we unapologetically pledge to proactively collaborate and  engage in compassionate dialogue with all stakeholders.” —Jairo McMican, Central Carolina Community College

“How might we go beyond heavy reliance on the relational to the ‘built environment’ or ‘resilience infrastructure’ for sustainability of our collective efforts to close credential achievement and workforce needs gaps?” —Stacy Townsley, Ivy Tech Community College 


How might we focus on tools that are actionable and practical?

Higher education needs to create an accelerated, skills based incremental  learning recognition model that leverages bitlearning, prior learning  assessment, and work based learning experiences utilizing a competency  based approach that incorporates various delivery methods (in-person,  online, hybrid, and streaming services) where all education artifacts are captured in an E-portfolio.” —Rose Rojas, Maricopa Community College 


How might we embrace the opportunity to rethink degrees?

“There are 37 million #learners in the US who have some postsecondary credits, but no degree. In 2035, I could (re)imagine my institution being a vital thread in a learning ecosystem that allows for true learner-centricity. We will have built a digital instractructure that allows for the learner or collaborator to curate their own journeys as they meet the specific needs of their destination.” —Adrian Haugubrook, Southern New Hampshire University


Want to stay up to date with our Designers in Residence program? Follow us on Twitter @eddesignlab for frequent shareouts of our program learnings, general Lab updates and for opportunities to connect!

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