The Presidents Forum, a network of 17 colleges, recently released a framework to help higher education institutions serve an increasingly diverse student body.
The 10 principles comprising the framework include providing more transparency around programs' return on investment, partnering with employers and alternative education providers, and offering a variety of credentials such as certifications and badges.
The forum asserts that the pandemic's impact on students heightens the need for colleges to develop policies that serve diverse learners.
The members of the Presidents Forum — many of whom helm large online colleges such as Western Governors, Southern New Hampshire and Capella universities — will meet over the next 15 months to share best practices and produce resources for other institutions to meet the framework's goals, according to a news release.
In the framework, the Presidents Forum asserts that the health crisis underscores the need to better serve nontraditional and underserved students, such as working adults. Around 37% of students are age 25 and older, and 40% work full time, according to a 2019 report from the Lumina Foundation.
Yet the framework contends that many colleges don't cater to the needs of modern learners. "The pandemic really didn't introduce new problems, it actually really amplified or put a spotlight on underlying conditions that already existed in higher education," said Scott Pulsipher, president of Western Governors and chair of the forum's board. "We can no longer afford to continue to prop up old models of doing things."
The group recommends colleges develop flexible offerings that serve a range of students. That can include removing time and place constraints, such as synchronous or in-person lectures, or making programs more affordable, Pulsipher said.
One of the principles also suggests colleges work with employers and alternative training providers to meet students' educational needs. Southern New Hampshire, for instance, has partnered with Guild Education, an education benefits platform targeting Fortune 500 companies.
Another member, Excelsior College, has joined forces with Pizza Hut to offer discounted tuition to the company's employees. And Western Governors partnered with Kenzie Academy this year to allow the boot camp provider's graduates to earn credit toward one of the university's degrees.
A group of college and national organization leaders formed the Presidents Forum in 2002 to guide higher education policies and practices.
So far, it has helped craft an interstate agreement that makes it easier for online colleges to enroll out-of-state students. It also launched a two-year project with the American Council on Education, higher ed's top lobbying group, to explore how blockchain technology can help students share their educational credentials with employers.