Educational institution

Will MIT’s proposal for a “new affordable educational institution” hold up or fall flat?

Last week, a group of five MIT professors published a white paper summarizing their ideas for a new type of undergraduate institution, an idea intended to inspire dialogue if not garner immediate support. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is one of the world’s leading research universities. So what is their angle here? Why MIT? Why now? And why might this be important? Big questions. Let’s take a deeper look.

MIT has long been considered one of the world’s leading technology research universities. Over the past few decades, they have leveraged their reputation, location, and ability to generate resources (through research grants, philanthropy, and corporate partnerships) to expand both their programming and their reputation for excellence to reflect more what might be seen on a global level. research university like Harvard of Stanford (private) or Michigan or Berkeley (public). They have explored and invested in new and emerging disciplines between traditional disciplines, relying heavily on transdisciplinary teaching and research, and helped create significant new ventures and university-industry partnerships that have quickly become among most prosperous in the country, if not the world. They attract the best students and faculty and some of the largest donor funding from across the Institute, in STEM and beyond.

In other words, MIT is uniquely positioned to speak from a position of knowledge, success, broad and deep expertise, innovation, and industry and global partnerships. They are a juggernaut. What they may lack in understanding and appreciation (or even knowledge) of the broader higher education landscape in the United States, they make up for in both impact and ability to invest. in growing/emerging areas and taking risks. Typically, these investments have benefited (in addition to MIT) partner institutions that are comparable in many ways to MIT, and of course stakeholders in the form of corporate partners or investors. But this report from five MIT professors from a wide range of disciplines aims differently.

The white paper details guidelines (and benchmarks) for forming a “new affordable educational institution” unlike MIT and no other in the United States currently. It draws on elements from all forms of higher education institutions (research universities, teaching-oriented institutions, community and technical colleges), proven characteristics (e.g. co-op experiences and internships) and on emerging concepts that many are talking about but only a few universities have managed to implement on a large scale to date (e.g., stackable identifiersshared or co-listed Classes in a cohort of universities, in partnership with employers).

In describing their “alternative model for teaching the baccalaureate,” the five MIT faculty members offer key levers to address three specific challenges that higher education has faced for decades, and on which the global pandemic has put highlighted and, in some cases, exacerbated: rising tuition fees (access and affordability), ballooning debt (financial sustainability), and concerns about workforce readiness (value and return on investment).

The main features of their proposal are intriguing if not entirely new. The authors begin by postulating a university focused on undergraduate majors in computer science and business, eventually expanding to include engineering and design. (It’s no different from proximity Olin Collegean experiment about to enter its third decade but whose story is still ongoing.) STEM and business. Indeed, he positions both as critically dependent on a much more comprehensive education (including “substantive courses in the humanities and social sciences, thoughtfully integrated into the curriculum”) that prepares students to think critically. critically and to engage effectively in their world.

Features of their proposed “New Educational Institution” (NEI) include:

Changing the balance between teaching and research. Faculty will divide their time between teaching (80%) and research or practice (20%) and promotions will focus primarily on teaching. This is a big difference with professors at research universities who are likely to have a more equal split between teaching and research, or even favor research. Keeping pace with new pedagogical approaches, pedagogical innovations and the development of new pedagogy will also be expectations of faculty. Professors will also be required to take sabbaticals from industry and other partner organizations.

Rethink the program and delivery. The authors propose a generalization of the flipped classroom model with online material drawn from several sources, including partner institutions.

Holistic programs. Beyond skills and knowledge, students need to understand context and implications. They must be able to work on increasingly complex (and ill-defined) problems in an increasingly complex (and interconnected) world. The program therefore includes “substantive courses in the humanities (including the arts) and social sciences” which are integrated into the general curriculum.

Stack of thematic micro-certificates. The majors and minors are redesigned as a series of micro credentials which can be stacked to form the undergraduate degree. This allows for greater customization, flexibility, and portability for students. The sets of courses forming the micro-certificate will be team taught by the faculty of the contributing disciplines.

A trimester model and a focus on experiential education. The academic calendar consists of three trimesters (autumn, spring and summer) of equal duration. Cooperative education will be at the heart of the NEI curriculum. Co-operatives will be carefully organized and supervised by the NEI to ensure value for the student and the partner or sponsoring organization. Students spend 4 of the required 11 terms in co-op programs.

Adopt modern, capital-efficient approaches to campus infrastructure. Leverage partner facilities (not just their educational capabilities), collaborate more closely with community facilities and organizations (libraries, museums, clinical or research labs, businesses). Avoid campus “niceties” (eg, rock climbing walls and lazy rivers) that are all the rage – and part of the arms race – at many traditional campuses. Focus instead on “pedagogy, students and outcomes”.

The five MIT faculty members who co-authored this latest white paper to reinvent the institution of the bachelor’s degree hope it becomes a starting point for discussion. And this discussion is necessary. But so does getting the right people to the table. Not just elite private or large research universities, but also universities that serve their communities and states more directly, as well as liberal arts colleges, community colleges, and technical colleges. The authors have done a commendable job of identifying and bringing together some of the high impact practices each of these types of higher education institutions can offer. Now let’s see if the broad audience needed to embrace and advance these ideas (and others) is invited to the discussion, and if they choose to accept.