New Designs for the Two-Year Institution of Higher Education

Work in Progress at the University of Minnesota

by George Copa, William Ammentorp and Sandra Krebsbach

How would the ideal twenty-first century community or technical college/institute be designed? What would the learning experience be like? How would the institution be organized? Who would be the staff and what would they be doing? What would the facility look like and how would it be furnished? And, how would the institution be financed so as to operate effectively? These are the questions addressed by the Minnesota-based NCRVE project, New Designs for the Two-Year Institution of Higher Education.

Few institutions rebuild from the ground up. New Designs' first products are designed to assist community colleges, technical colleges and private proprietary schools in continuing to improve, given their current design and local context. We focus on two-year institutions of higher education, not four-year colleges and universities. The approximately 1,200 public technical institutes and colleges and community colleges, and the 3,000 private proprietary schools in the United States offer a wide variety of programs culminating in certificates, diplomas and associate degrees.

The New Designs project focuses on several target audiences: (1) administrative leaders responsible for designing entirely new institutions (e.g., the Homestead campus of Miami-Dade Community College in Florida which was destroyed by a tornado, or the two new campuses to be built by the Maricopa Community College District in Phoenix, Arizona); (2) administrative leadership responsible for major restructuring through merger, reengineering or downsizing of institutions (e.g., merger of technical and community colleges in Minnesota and Connecticut); and (3) policymakers at the local, state and federal levels responsible for policy, regulations and funding of two-year institutions of higher education. These target groups were involved in the project development and operation, and in reporting and dissemination plans.

The New Designs process includes a design process, design specifications, and exemplary new designs, described below.

Design Process: The design process provides a road map to follow in addressing design questions in an order that gets "first questions first" so as to retain focus on the local context of the institution, its uniqueness and desired learning outcomes. The process also insures careful alignment of all major components of the institution in order to gain high quality and efficiency.

Design Specifications: The design specifications form a set of desired characteristics for each major component of an effective twenty-first century two-year institution of higher education. They serve as a vision for what might be ideal, creating new "thinking space" for both the design of a new institution and the assessment of an existing institution.

New Designs: The exemplary new designs, which show the design specifications in practice, illustrate our project's ideas, and provide benchmarks for reviewing operations. In some cases, we developed actual new designs for institutional practice. In others, we identified and described current practices that met some of the design specifications.

Learning Outcomes: Key Competencies

  • Collecting, analyzing, and organizing information
  • Planning and organizing activities
  • Using mathematical ideas and techniques
  • Using technology
  • Communicating ideas and information
  • Working with others and in teams
  • Solving problems
  • Using an understanding of culture

Learning Process: Design Specifications
for the Constructivist Approach to Learning

  • Engages the learner in inquiry (research) and knowledge construction
  • Linked to global information network
  • Guided by experienced navigators
  • Uses learning projects connected to the needs of the community

Learning Celebration:
Design Specifications

  • Aligns with previous design elements.
  • Emanates from as well as creates learning cultures.
  • Reminds of and centers on the learning signature.
  • Connects and publically recognizes all participants in the learning experience.
  • Integrates within the total learning experience.
  • Occurs frequently and continuously.

Project Results

What follows is a brief sketch of new designs for two-year institutions of higher education. The sketch is organized by the phases in the design process. This tact was taken because even with limited space we wanted to give a comprehensive view of the New Designs products. The complete project report will be available early in 1997.

The 10 elements of the design process proceed logically from aims to actions to supporting structure, culture, and environment. The idea is to insure that the design fits the needs of the situation and that first questions are asked first.

1. Learning Context: The learning context is described in terms of problems with current institutional operation, opportunities a new institution can take advantage of, and goals for the new institution. Analyzing the learning context produces design criteria to use in guiding and monitoring the accomplishments of the other design process elements.

2. Learning Signature: Learning signatures are often symbols or metaphors that represent the hopes and expectations of students, educators and policymakers. The design process must elicit and understand these hopes and expectations, as a way to give coherence and energy to the enterprise.

3. Learning Outcomes: Two-year institution leaders must clearly know the competencies, standards or results they want for the students. Outcomes are a starting point for program improvement. Students, too, must be able to see what two-year institutions can do for them in terms of their personal development. A partial list of learning outcomes formed by New Designs are shown in the sidebar.

4. Learning Process: The process that leads to these outcomes is traditionally viewed in terms of curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Too often in higher education, the attention is to teaching, in contrast to learning, and to subject matter (curriculum), at the expense of instruction and assessment. Most faculty in higher education are not required to study the learning process; instead, they focus almost exclusively on subject matter. If two-year institutions are to address the learning design challenges and opportunities of the future, they must have a working language and knowledge of the learning process, with foundations in adult development. Some of the design specifications for the constructivist approach to learning are shown in the sidebar.

5. Learning Organization: The learning infrastructure is made up of the organization of learners, time, settings, subject matter, staff, technology and environment. It is here that new designs for two-year institutions are most clearly visible. Familiar physical and organizational forms of higher education are unlikely to be responsive to the needs of students and the changing nature of society and its lifeplaces (e.g., work, family, community).

6. Learning Partnerships: Two-year institutions can no longer "go it alone"; they have neither the resources nor the knowledge to be set apart from their surroundings. Learning partnerships among public and private sector organizations work to connect higher education institutions with their communities. Instead of the "ivory tower" of the past, higher education institutions of the future will be more closely integrated with their communities. They will bear increased responsibility for the quality of life of those who support and benefit from their work.

7. Learning Staff and Staff Development: The above suggestions mandate parallel development of teachers, administrators and support personnel ready to adapt two-year institutions to new realities. Higher education must identify, train and support leaders who can shape curricula and student experience. Staff must include all involved with the institution's partnerships, not just those at the school.

8. Learning Environment: The driving force for higher education has shifted from the traditional, static subject matters to a dynamic view of knowledge and its use.

Information technology will continue to be a pivotal force in this development, as it redefines the process of knowledge creation, transmission and application. Learning technology has become one of the major considerations in any new design for the learning environment for two-year institutions of higher education. After the design elements noted above, the physical and social environment of the institution must be considered. New designs will not be constrained by architectural forms, nor limited to traditional educa-tional practices. They will be motivated by the dynamic integration of higher education institutions with their students and communities. Learning environments will include consideration of settings such as home, workplace, community, and campus.

9. Learning Celebration: Learning experiences and their applications should be continually reinforced through celebrations whereby the community confirms the relevance of the work of higher education. The cultural symbols and practices of all those associated with the two-year institution of higher education integrate the New Designs process.

10. Learning Finance: Key cost strategies include cost containment, improved efficiency, reengineering and external sources of services. On the revenue side, strategies include institutional development, new products and services, partnerships, and new markets.

While the design elements are presented in linear, downward order, the process also involves moving upward and among them to ensure internal consistency and coherence. Close alignment of all the elements is necessary to realize quality and efficiency in the two-year institution of higher education.

New Designs Project Process

The New Designs project used several sources of information. We searched for best professional practices, effective and innovative places, leadership, and concepts both in and out of public higher education. The latest higher education research, particularly from NCRVE, was searched for study findings and recommendations. We examined reports that advocate reform of two-year institutions for recommendations and supporting rationale. These reports sometimes addressed only a certain element of the design process. Our contribution is unique in addressing the full range of elements, and striving for alignment in the recommendations of all the elements.

We interviewed focus groups of students, faculty, administrators and external institutional partners from five different schools from California to Florida, in order to get firsthand views of many of the design elements. In addition, our National Design Group gives broad representation of leadership and stakeholders in the future of two-year institutions of higher education.

New Designs is now ready to start dissemination and implementation. The final report will be available through NCRVE early in 1997. During 1997, New Designs will be providing training and technical assistance, and selecting and describing additional exemplary new designs from across the country.

For more information, contact: George Copa or William Ammentorp, Department of Work, Community, and Family Education, University of Minnesota, 1954 Buford Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108-6197. Phone: (612) 624-1740.

Dr. George Copa is a co-director of New Designs for the Two Year Institution of Higher Education and its Leadership Academy, and a professor for the Department of Work Community and Family Education. His research interests include leadership, development and design for secondary and post-secondary education.

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