Public Purpose Magazine, Fall 2014
2014 Fall PP - cover


Learning is the Constant, Time is the VariableBy Stephen G. Pelletier

In higher education, it sometimes feels like what goes around comes around. That’s the case to some extent around competency-based education (CBE). A presence on the edges of higher education for decades, CBE is once again gaining traction. Is this a concept whose time has finally come?

From Arizona to Maine, and from Wisconsin to Texas—and across all of cyberspace—a handful of innovative AASCU institutions are staking new claims in competency-based education. True to their pioneering spirit, each institution is creating its own unique form of CBE. 

Seat Time or Mastery? 
Competency-based education is, of course, based on the notion of measuring learning not by hours spent in a classroom or number of courses taken, but by having students prove they have mastered certain knowledge and skills.

A confluence of factors drive interest in CBE today, including the aspiration of helping adult students complete college, perhaps at less cost to both students and institutions. Many employers clamor for a workforce better trained in basic skills that can be delivered effectively via CBE. Educational technology makes online CBE viable. For stakeholders interested in seeing higher education demonstrate more accountability, CBE provides demonstrable markers of student learning outcomes.

Foundations have funded significant research and development in CBE. The Lumina Foundation, for example, funded the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN), a consortium of colleges and universities that share ideas for developing and scaling competencybased programs. (Several AASCU institutions discussed in this article are A cadre of AASCU institutions are innovators in competency-based education. True to their pioneer spirit, each is putting its own distinctive stamp on CBE. By Stephen G. Pelletier Learning is the Constant, Time is the Variable 2 Public Purpose n Fall 2014 members.) The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also supports CBE.

This past summer, the Obama administration announced support for a new round of “experimental sites,” where selected institutions are given flexibility for disbursing student aid for CBE-style coursework. A bipartisan Congressional bill that would fund CBE demonstration projects passed the House this summer and awaits action by the Senate.


Incubating BusinessCollaborations Between Universities and Business Leaders Boost Economic DevelopmentBy Karen Doss Bowman
Sometimes, it takes just a seed to help small businesses grow.

The Southwest Louisiana Entrepreneurial and Economic Development Center, or SEED Center, opened last August to provide services and resources to strengthen existing businesses and to grow start-ups. Located on the campus of McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La., the SEED Center is a partnership between the university, the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury, the city of Lake Charles, and the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance. McNeese State—which provided the 7.67 acres of undeveloped land for the $13 million, 52,000 square-foot facility—is one of the only universities in the U.S. to house a regional chamber of commerce on campus.

“The SEED Center is a wonderful example of a university partnering with industry in areas that are unique and new in terms of the technology being developed,” says McNeese President Philip Williams. “Our strategic plan and our mission both include strong statements about the importance of university and community partnerships. Regional, comprehensive universities are expected to serve their regions, so this is a way we are able to demonstrate that.”

Williams notes that Southwest Louisiana—an area still trying to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Rita in 2005—is the epicenter of an industrial boom in liquefied natural gas projects, with billions of dollars being invested in the region by multinational corporations. The SEED Center will be valuable in nurturing this global energy industry, as well as contributing to the growth of existing industries such as aviation, agriculture, gaming and tourism. The ultimate goal is to help companies become viable and financially sustainable so that they, in turn, create jobs for the region, contribute to the vibrancy of local communities, and diversify the region’s economy.

The SEED Center’s partners bring together a combination of resources to effectively create a one-stop shop that provides everything from office space, technical assistance and client management to entrepreneurial training, business coaching and consulting. The center houses a number of economic development programs and services, including the Southwest Louisiana Business Incubator and Entrepreneurial Center, the Louisiana Small Business Development Center, the Southwest Louisiana Partnership for Economic Development, and the Chamber Southwest Louisiana. The Institute for Industry-Education Collaboration provides customized training and professional development for businesses.

Opportunities for All: Making the Case for AASCU InstitutionsA Commentary by Bruce Shepard
Higher education is never short of challenges, but those of us leading AASCU institutions are finding ourselves with an interesting array of both new and old issues that challenge us to lead effectively.

In an era of almost across-the-board declines in state support for our publicly-purposed institutions, we are tasked with providing an obtainable, high quality education that is accessible and affordable for all, while at the same time aligning ourselves with the shifting economic needs and new opportunities in the states that we so proudly serve. These issues with state budgets are occurring at the same time as—and perhaps in part because of—a new level of diminished public opinion on the ROI of a four-year baccalaureate education.

Concurrently, the role state colleges and universities (SCUs) fill in providing these needs are often cloudy or obscured; we are not Research 1 schools, nor are we two-year schools that so often serve as the first step for many college students from populations that have been historically underrepresented in higher education. By our very nature, the excellence that SCUs provide is often obscured or unrecognized.

During the course of this past spring and summer, five institutions—the University of Central Oklahoma, Northern Kentucky University, Henderson State University (Ark.), Morgan State University (Md.), and Western Washington University—have been working with AASCU leadership and Sage Communications on a pilot project to get a better understanding of what we collectively stand for; what common threads unite our institutions; and how we can better create a unified message that rings true with both the policymakers and general public about the invaluable roles our institutions play in the educational, social and economic futures of our states. And just as importantly, are the common threads that bind us as AASCU institutions clear and visible for all members to see, and is our mission as member institutions as self-evident as we think it is?

Thankfully, there is strength in numbers in this regard—there has never been a more important time for your voice to be heard within AASCU as we, together, move forward to meet these challenges (and the opportunities they present) head on, as a group.

The current effort of AASCU, working together with Sage Communications, to redefine our focus and understand our collective brand is therefore of utmost importance. We also hope and believe that the results of this pilot will provide concrete suggestions and ideas for your institutions to turn our findings into practical ways to bolster your message and effectiveness in your community, region and state.

So what have we found, in this summer of intense self-evaluation?

Social Media and the PresidencyBy Virginia Schaefer Horvath
When I was named a university president, one of my first thoughts was that I needed to take down my Facebook page. Although I’d never used that site for highly personal revelations, rants or updates on my whereabouts, having an active Facebook page loomed as one more vulnerability in a role that is already highly public.

At the press conference announcing my appointment, however, someone snapped and posted a picture of the current president and me as we stood together, and it immediately had more than 100 likes. I then resolved to use that page—and other social media—to promote my university and community, to connect people, and to share glimpses of my own professional and some personal commitments.

I regularly post now about a range of campus and regional events, sharing pictures and brief comments about speakers, athletics, faculty publications and grants, construction projects, and performances. I often link articles from newspapers and our campus newsletter to feature people and ideas in the news. Others from within and outside campus chime in with their comments on events.

With high-resolution cameras in all phones now, every walk across campus is an opportunity for me to share simple moments of campus life: students drumming outside Mason Hall, a late-night team working on a fundraiser, the first tinge of yellow in the honey locust grove, a particularly muddy soccer practice, an animated study group in the library, friends trying an international lunch together, faculty and students huddled around a lab instrument. My pictures and videos show some of the life of a campus, and members of the campus community—whose permission I seek before posting—are glad to have me feature them on my page.