Kentucky’s Commonwealth College – United We Stand

The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education has a great history of statewide elearning innovation, see Kentucky Virtual Campus, Kentucky Virtual Library, Kentucky Virtual Adult Education, and  Learn on Demand.  In a partnership among its colleges, they are increasing the capacity to assist with adult degree completion.  I was on that “national experts” panel that he cites and the progress is very exciting.  Thank you to Al Lind for this update and the entire WCET community wishes him the greatest of joy as he pursues innovative ways to enjoy retirement.
Russ Poulin

Commonwealth College is a statewide bachelor’s degree completion program in high-demand occupational areas for adults in an online, competency-based format at Kentucky public universities.

The official seal of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  It reads "United We Stand, Divided We Fall" with two people shaking hands in the center.The seal of the Commonwealth of Kentucky consists of the words, “United we stand, divided we fall,” and the image of two diverse people clasping one another.  That is the spirit that is incorporated into the implementation of our competency-based education initiative called Commonwealth College.

I for one did not see it that way during an early organizing meeting with leading national experts on CBE.  We all agreed that a single isolated entity should be responsible for CBE bachelor degrees in Kentucky.  Clay Christenson had explained in The Innovators Dilemma, Disrupting Class and The Innovative University that it is easier to change a culture like higher education from the outside, rather than from within where tradition would trump innovation.

However, through a series of events Kentucky was prepared to involve all eight public four–year institutions equally in a special legislative appropriation of $5 million to launch Commonwealth College.  That is until an eleventh hour evaporation of the $5 million.  A strange and wonderful thing then happened. Collaboration broke out.

The University of Louisville and Western Kentucky University, with coordination and support from the Council on Postsecondary Education, were compelled to continue with their own resources albeit on a smaller scale.  Why is not entirely clear, but I believe some of the reasons include:

  • Momentum had built up and was hard to stop.
  • Commitment from a small group of people ready to proceed.
  • The Kentucky public two-year institutions at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System had already demonstrated a successful model of collaborative competency-based associate degrees: Learn on Demand.
  • Demands from the business community.
  • Political leaders still desired it.
  • Kentucky’s history of leadership in emerging education policy.
  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supported our collaborative approach with a Next Generation Learner Challenge – Breakthrough Model Incubator award.
  • It is the right thing to do.

The University of Louisville, with leadership from Provost Shirley Willihnganz and Associate Provost Gale Rhodes, will offer an Organizational Leadership and Learning degree with an emphasis in Healthcare Management.

Western Kentucky University, with leadership from Provost Gordon Emslie and Associate Vice President Beth Laves, will offer an Advanced Manufacturing degree.

The Council on Postsecondary Education, with leadership from Senior Vice President Aaron Thompson and Senior Academic Advisor Cheryl King, will provide coordination and the support of its Kentucky Virtual Campus infrastructure.Logo for the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

The original vision of all eight public four-year institutions participating is still alive.  After the first two degrees roll out in 2015, it is hoped that Commonwealth College will scale with additional degrees from all eight institutions.

The common Guiding Principles that define Commonwealth College are that it:

  • Meets the needs of adults who started college but did not graduate.
  • Meets the needs of Kentucky employers.
  • Offers statewide nonduplicative degrees in high-demand occupational areas.
  • Benefits from ongoing employer input and involvement.
  • Uses a common brand and marketing strategies.
  • Offers clear pathways from KCTCS Learn on Demand programs into baccalaureate programs.
  • Offers credit for prior learning based on CAEL principles of effectiveness.
  • Allows students to learn at their own pace.
  • Provides personalized coaching.
  • Makes it easy and convenient to enroll, transfer credits, make payments and purchase course materials.
  • Uses a common Web portal with program, course and enrollment information; real-time employment and workforce information and data.
  • Includes 365/24/7 student support and career services.
  • Utilizes a collaborative platform among Kentucky public four-year institutions on which to build degrees that drive student enrollment .
  • Strives to offer high quality degrees at reasonable and affordable subscription-based tuition rates.

So while it will not be an easy path, we will persevere to collaborate across the university structure, across two-year and four-year institutions and across business relationships to provide working adults with a united higher education experience.Photo of Al Lind

That’s the spirit that is sealed into the Commonwealth!

Allen Lind
Vice President, Innovation and eLearning
Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

Goodbye Lake Wobegone: Proposed Teacher Prep Regulations and Distance Ed

December 12, 2014

It was a quiet week in Lake Wobegone…
…and then new Teacher Prep regulations were released.

On December 3rd, the U.S. Department of Education released proposed new accountability regulations for teacher preparation programs.  Public comment will be accepted until February 2, 2015.  If implemented, these regulations will have a big impact on teacher education programs, especially those offered at a distance.

In this blog post, I review some of the highlights of what is proposed.   I got a headache reading the fine print, so forgive me for getting anything that I report incorrectly.

We need to comment on this regulation and I’ll ask for your help in doing so.   I’ll also contact our colleagues at other distance education organizations about joining together aa single voice in a commenting.

1950's photo of teacher with a film projector in a class of young children.

Here in Lake Wobegone, our student teachers learn about the latest in educational technologies.

…And All the Children are Above Average

Given the funding that the Department of Education distributes in support of preparing new K-12 teachers, they are very interested in learning whether teachers are well-prepared. They also wish to provide consumer information to states and students, as well as prompting colleges to improve. In their own words (Note: unless stated otherwise, all quotes are from the proposed regulations released on December 3):

“Section 205 of the HEA requires States and institutions of higher education (IHEs) annually to report on various characteristics of their teacher preparation programs. These reporting requirements exist in part to ensure that members of the public, prospective teachers and employers (districts and schools), and the States, IHEs, and programs themselves have accurate information on the quality of these teacher preparation programs. These requirements also provide an impetus to States and IHEs to make improvements where they are needed and recognize excellence where it exists. Thousands of new teachers enter the profession every year, and their students depend on having well-prepared teachers.”

As part of this report, states were supposed to use their own criteria to identify “low-performing” or “at-risk” teacher preparation programs.  The results resembled Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegone, that fictional town where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”  Just like those children, states identified almost all of their programs as above average:

“Notwithstanding the focus that Congress has placed on improving the quality of new teachers produced by teacher preparation programs and improving or closing programs that are low-performing, these State and IHE reporting requirements have not produced information that is sufficiently helpful to programs, the public, or the Secretary in improving low-performing teacher preparation…In 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, States identified only 38 teacher preparation programs as low-performing or at-risk…Over the last dozen years, 34 States have never identified a single low-performing or at-risk program at a single IHE.”

That means that of the 25,000 teacher preparation programs from 2,163 providers, only 38 (0.15%) were cited as needing improvement. You can see why the Department is concerned in the state-by-state reports for academic year 2011-12 at the Department’s website.

A teacher points to words on a white board.

In the modern world, proposed new regulations seek more transparency on how well programs are performing in creating well-prepared teachers.

What Does the Department of Education Propose?

This is a rough summary, but  I will cover the aspects that seem most interesting to our community.

Annual State Reports

Each state will be required to publish an annual State Report Card (SRC) of teacher preparation programs (underlining added):

“The Department proposes to add new § 612.4(a) to require that, beginning on April 1, 2018, and annually thereafter, each State that receives funds under the HEA report to the Secretary and the general public, using a SRC prescribed by the Secretary, (1) the quality of all approved teacher preparation programs in the State, including distance education programs, whether or not they enroll students receiving Federal assistance under the HEA…”

The State Report Card will have at least four possible grades for the programs:

“…beginning in April, 2019 and annually thereafter, each State would be required to report how it has made meaningful differentiations of teacher preparation program performance using at least four performance levels: ‘low-performing,’ ‘at-risk,’ ‘effective,’ and ‘exceptional’…”

While the state must follow a prescribed format and definitions developed by the Department, each state will have the ability to create a rating system unique to its own setting.

“To assist in the development of the State’s procedures for assessing and reporting teacher preparation program performance, each State would be required under § 612.4(c)(1) to consult with a representative group of stakeholders, including, at a minimum, representatives of leaders and faculty of traditional and alternative route teacher preparation programs; students of teacher preparation programs; superintendents; school board members; elementary and secondary school leaders and instructional staff; elementary and secondary school students and their parents; IHEs that serve high proportions of low-income or minority students, or English language learners; advocates for English language learners and students with disabilities; and officials of the State’s standards board or other appropriate standards body.”

Report at the “Program” Level

Rather than reporting at the college, university, or other entity level, the reporting will be for every teacher preparatory “program” that they offer, such as elementary, music, or special education:

“…we propose to require States to report on performance at the individual teacher preparation program level, rather than on the overall performance of all of an entity’s teacher preparation programs.”

Indicators that Must Be Reported

There are four main “indicators” that must be reported:

  1. Student Learning Outcomes. The state would need to measure student growth for students in classes taught by “new teachers” in “tested grades and subjects” (scores in mandated state assessments) and in “non-tested grades and subjects” (measures that are “rigorous and comparable across schools and consistent with State requirements”).   On the face of it, this sounds impossible.  They built on previous work by following definitions from other Department initiatives, such as ESEA flexibility, the Teacher Incentive Fund, and the Race to the Top program.
  2. Employment Outcomes. These include measures of teacher placement rate, teacher placement rate in high-need schools, the teacher retention rate, and teacher retention rate for high-need schools.
  3. Survey Outcomes. The regulations will require reporting on surveys including: a) survey of new teachers to see if they felt their program prepared them to teach, b) an employer survey to capture perceptions of whether the new teachers that they have employed possess the skills needed to succeed in the classroom.
  4. Accreditation or Alternative State Approval. The provider needs to determinate if: a) “the teacher preparation program is accredited by a specialized accrediting agency recognized by the Secretary for accreditation of professional teacher education programs” or b) meets other state criteria for alternative programs that are too long to list here.

This is simplified version of what is being proposed, as there are additional details for each of these indicators.

Distance Education Concerns and Questions

Picture of 1950's class with eager kids raising hands to answer a question.

In Lake Wobegone, all of our kids are above average. That can be a problem sometimes.

As a distance education community, we should provide comments to the Department about these regulations.  We have until February 2 to submit those comments and my thinking is still in the early stages on what we might say.  We will need your help.

First of all, the need to have programs offered via distance education was specifically included in these proposed regulations:

“In addition, during the negotiated rulemaking process, some non-Federal negotiators stated that it was not clear whether States had to report on the performance of distance education programs under this requirement. Non-Federal negotiators requested that we specify in the regulations that distance education programs must be included in a State’s reporting. We have therefore included language in § 612.4(a) to clarify that, for purposes of State reporting, States must report on distance learning programs that are being provided in the State.”

My initial thoughts and questions, from a distance learning point-of-view:

  • Distance programs not reporting now? When I look through 2011-12 state reports on teacher preparation, I see that there are 25,000 programs from 2,163 providers.  In sampling the reports of a few larger states, very few out-of-state providers listed.  Are most distance education programs not currently participating in these reports?  Are those programs not seeking approval to offer their teacher preparatory courses in other states?  I’d love to hear from you on this.
  • Differing measures by state. Did you notice that while the State Report Card format and definitions are set by the U.S. Department of Education, the measures used to judge whether a program is “low-performing,” “at-risk,” “effective,” or “exceptional” is up to each state? That’s fine as long as the program stays within its own state, but for distance education this raises a concern that we’ve seen before.  Does this remind of anything?  State authorization, maybe? The criteria and reporting requirements will differ for each state.  In the age contentious debate over “Common Core” standards and the new AP American History test, it’s impossible to imagine standard measures being possible.  Even so, we have consistently pushed for the Department to better engage the states in a conversation on state authorization issues.  Engaging the states in group conversations on how to comply will be helpful to all as they can learn best practices from each other.  If the State Report Card format is standardized and the definitions are standardized, but the measurements reported from the process differ greatly then we may be causing more confusion in the marketplace.   And we must the remember that the 21st century marketplace is not confined to the boundaries of a single state.
  • What if a state does not treat all programs equally? It is conceivable that some states will devise measures that (intentionally or unintentionally) disadvantage a subset of programs.  Some in education don’t like distance education.  Others are protective of institutions within their own state.  In another profession, I’ve been told of a bias against competency-based education.  In state authorization, there are local requirements in a few states that are unpalatable or illegal for some institutions to meet.  One can imagine scenarios in which a program might score highly in one state and poorly in another due to differences in measurements.  What happens in these cases?
  • Difficulty of gathering data in other states. How hard will it be for colleges to track these measures in other states?  For example, programs will have to know where each “new teacher” is employed and collect the student learning outcomes measures for those students.  You will also need to track if that “new teacher” is still employed after a few years.  You will also have to conduct surveys of the employers of “new teachers.”  All of these will probably be easier to conduct in your own state than in other states.  While that is more work in crossing state lines, isn’t that the burden that the college assumes by teaching students in other states?
  • What if a “new teacher” moves to another state? For employment measures, it is unclear what happens if a “new teacher” crosses state lines to become employed.  Surveys are focused on students who remain in the state in which they were taught.  The proposal also encourages the development of interstate sharing of information, but what is expected in the meanwhile for those students on the move?
  • Calculation of “burden” underestimated for distance programs. The Department calculated the extra burden that providers will assume in completing the new required documentation. Their logic estimates that there are an average of 14.65 programs per provider and that providers already collect and report this data. Therefore, they estimate the extra burden will total 13.65 hours (at one hour of per program).  However, there is an unstated assumption that all the programs are in a single state.  The burden grows when you multiply the number of programs for each provider times the number of states in which they serve students.  If the measures are different from state-to-state, then this will add many hours of work for each state.  Of course, they probably assume that the colleges are already reporting in those states, but there is still a multiplier effect and the extra need of understanding the differences and implementing solutions for each state.

We Need Your Help

Here’s where I need your help…

  • What am I missing?
  • What comments should we submit?
  • Is your college submitting comments and what are you saying?

Please send me your suggestions by January 20.  Thank you!

In Conclusion….

There will be no more rating all our children (teacher preparation programs) above average.  While there will be new reporting requirements, we will need to make sure that they fit with how distance education programs operate. Let’s give our opinions.

That is the news from Lake WCET, where all the women are strong, all the men are funny looking, and all the members are above average.Photo of Russ Poulin with baseball bat


Russell Poulin
Deputy Director, Research & Analysis
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
Twitter:  RussPoulin

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Additional Resources:

Photo Credits

Teacher with Projector by Public Record Office Victoria:

Teacher Pointing to Board by Cybarian – LINK:

Teacher with Kids Raising Hands by Public Record Office Victoria:

#WCET14: Ideas Blossomed in the City of Roses

November 19-21, 2014 seasoned WCET’ers and new comers to our community gathered in Portland, OR (known the City of Roses) to exchange ideas and learn together.  Invigorated by the conversations and fueled by amazing epicurean adventures, the tenor of the meeting was electric.  Whether you were able to be with us in person or just joined the backchannel, I encourage you to share your take-aways, ahas, and favorite moments from the Annual Meeting in the comments.  And don’t forget to mark your calendars for November 11 – 13, 2015 when we’ll gather again in Denver, CO.


Mt.Hood and the Willamette River from the 11th floor of the Marriott.

Before I share a few highlights, a little housekeeping.  Whether or not you attended the meeting face-to-face, you can access the materials from the meeting utilizing our mobile app.  It’s available for download on Android, Apple and has a browser based interface.  I created instructions for accessing the materials through the web interface.  If you’re a presenter and still have resources you’d like added please email them to Megan Raymond.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

 Academic Leadership Forum

Nearly two dozen executive level leaders (provosts, vice presidents, deans) participated in the 4th Academic Leadership Forum.   The purpose of the forum is to provide academic leaders with a peer-to-peer opportunity to network and discuss issues of common interest and concern. Innovation, faculty issues, student issues, and management/outsourcing issues were the focus of small group discussions.  Some  highlights:

  • Technology is a critical component of innovation. Higher ed needs to innovate internally and externally in terms of new collaborations and partnerships.
  • An institutional leader must weigh the costs of innovation versus scale.
  • What do adjunct faculty want? They want recognition, badges, brought in as a subject matter expert, stability even on a term-to-term basis and be recognized as people!
  • Adjunct workload agreements may be at risk as institutions cost out compliance with the Affordable Care Act. The ACA may force institutions to cut adjunct faculty workloads.
  • What’s the focus at your institution? Online students get services?   Or all students get online services, including career counseling, mental health services, health care, counseling.
  • We innovate in academic affairs…how do we really innovate in student services?
  • How to grow international markets?
  • We talk about student transfer issues…what about faculty transfer issues? Is there an opportunity to explore transferability of faculty (part time) credentials and training?

Badges in Higher Education: Exploring the Policies and Possibilities

In a pre-conference session, our partners from the MOOC and continuing community Badges: New Currency for Professional Credentials, Anne Derryberry (Sage Road Solutions), Carla Casilli (Badge Alliance),  and Deb Everhart (Blackboard) were joined remotely by policy expert Mary Alice McCarthy (New America Foundation) to explore where badges are and are going in higher education and beyond.  Collaborative notes and resources from the session can be found on its etherpad.

Conversation about Student Success

In this in-depth conversation, the panel looked to answer two questions: 1. What are colleges actually doing to prepare students to be successful online learners? 2. Do we really know what works? The panel shared the results of the WCET Student Success CIG survey which addressed issues of student readiness and services offered as well as considered what is not currently being offered.

The Challenges are the Opportunities

Mike Abbiatti

Mike Abbiatti shares his vision for the future.

In January 2015, Mike Abbiatti will assume the role of WCET Executive Director.  Ahead of the opening keynote, Mike took a few moments to share his philosophy in taking the reins at WCET.  As he shared Leadership for the Future…

  1. Must be proven and trusted on a local, regional, and national scale.
  2. Must understand the difference between leadership and management.
  3. Must bring a solid history of attracting investment and sustainability.

WCET will continue to look at road blocks as opportunities for innovation and address them through collective leadership.  Mike thanked Russ Poulin and Mollie McGill for the wonderful job they have done and will continue to do through the end of 2014 as interim co-executive directors.

Innovation at Scale: Creating a Systemwide Environment

Our opening keynote was Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of the State University of New York, who came to Portland to share with WCET’ers how SUNY is using its collective impact to create access to education from ‘cradle to career’.  Some highlights:

  • America has always been a country focused on Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals
  • If we were to continue on our current trajectory to the 60% or 65% goals for adults with higher education credentials, NCHEMS research has shown we’ll be off by somewhere between 17 years (60% goal) to 29 years (65% goal).
  • SUNY uses the word “Systemness” (the coordination of multiple components that when working together create a network of activity taht is more powerful than any action of individual parts on their own).  {Side note and apologies for the forthcoming earworm: this may be the first time I’ve ever heard Vanilla Ice at an academic conference, but the message is clear in his song and at the heart of the SUNY philosophy – Stop. Collaborate & Listen.}
  • Don’t discount ideas hatched on the back of a napkin.
  • Assemble the right people and stop the blame game.
  • Shared accountability, individual responsibility.
  • SUNY is using their capital budget to grow online.  The network is infrastructure. {This completely blew my mind.  A simple, yet brilliant, solution to being able to innovate sustainably without dependence on one-time or grant funding.)
Nancy Zimpher Follow Up Session

Chancellor Zimpher discusses with WCET members after the keynote presentation.

You can view the full recording of Chancellor Zimpher’s presentation. After the keynote, Chancellor Zimpher joined a continued conversation with WCET members.

Open Doesn’t Have to Be Lonely

Peter Smith presented a ‘flipped session’ on the development of the Open College at Kaplan University (OC@KU) and what the openness within the program can be isolating for students and what Kaplan is doing to combat that.  His presentation was provided for participants prior to the session (available at: and the time in the session was used for discussion of how we can help ensure open learning isn’t lonely.

Opening Reception

Lively discussion abound at the opening reception!

Meeting and Greeting

Wednesday evening brought us together for the welcome reception with cool appetizers and hot higher ed conversation. During the reception, Ellen Wagner, Chief Research & Strategy Officer for the PAR Framework, made a special announcement of a new program PAR has started with an opportunity for WCET member institutions to join the  the next wave of pioneers driving measurable improvements in student outcomes through a special Student Success Membership of the PAR Framework.  If you’re interested in learning more about this offer, be sure to register for the December 10th webcast.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

What Do Our Students REALLY Think of Online Learning?

Student Panel 2014

Our student panel with Pat James and Phil Hill.

We talk about students all the time.  We talk about what we think they want, what we think we know about their experience, but rarely do we actually talk with current students about these things.  This was an excellent panel and one of its moderators, Phil Hill, already did a very thorough job summarizing and analyzing what the student panel shared with the audience, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel.  Go Read: WCET14 Student Panel: What do students think of online education? over on e-Literate.

Conversation about Data Analytics

A long and distinguished panel was lead on this in-depth conversation about data analytics by Linda Baer, principal senior consultant for i4Solutions.  Institutions and vendors alike shared their practical applications of data for student success. A few take-aways from the session include:

  • Action analytics means not collecting data for reporting, but for use in improving efficiency, outcomes and learning. Data doesn’t help people if we don’t put it into action.
  • In developing an analytics strategy, get your business/financial managers involved.  They can help with scaleability issues and others when considering intervention strategies.
  • “Throw one noodle at a time.”  When trying interventions, try one at a time to really determine which work.
  • Have realistic expectations, don’t expect every intervention you try to work.
  • The question was raised “how do we get faculty to take more responsibility for student success?” To which Don Norris, President of Strategic Initiatives, Inc. and one of the panelists answered, “faculty may be reluctant because of the ‘obligation of knowing.'”

Student or Imposter?  Identity, Validation, and Authentication.  

A full house at this panel presentation addressing financial aid fraud, central IT security and why institutions should consider a four-factor authentication, discussion of why student authentication and academic integrity are separate concepts and complex issues, and an overview of the Office of Inspector General’s findings and recommendations related to verification of student identity and determination of a student’s academic attendance.  A few highlights:

Formulate a plan to address financial aid fraud:

  • This is not an online problem. This is an institution-wide problem and needs an institution wide strategy.
  • Leverage your technology and your student data.
  • The plan needs to start at the point of admission.
  • Require evidence of high school diploma, GED or other prior education documentation.
  • Try to avoid barriers to legitimate students, especially in programs designed for open enrollment and low tuition.

The February 2014 Office of Inspector General (OIG) report addresses authentication of student identity and verification of student attendance.    The OIG report calls upon the US Department of Education should develop a general regulatory definition of attendance that applies to all attendance based requirements for Title IV and guidelines for what is considered acceptable attendance in distance ed programs.  The OIG report also states that identity verification through secure login and password is inadequate for verifying one’s identity.  Audience members commented on how the attendance guidelines will conflict with the design of competency-based programs.

WCET Awards Lunch

Each year, we gather over lunch to celebrate our award winners for their innovative programs and contributions to higher education and WCET.  View the video of the entire ceremony.

Congratulations to the 2014 WCET Outstanding Work award recipients:

  • Capella University: FlexPath
  • Colorado Technical University: intellipath™ for MBA preparation
  • Excelsior College: Online Writing Lab (OWL)
  • Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) Extended Learning Institute:NOVA’s OER-Based Associate Degree Project
  • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee: U-Pace

You can view the videos submitted by our WOW winners about their programs on our YouTube.

Mollie McGill, Michael Goldstein, Russ Poulin and David Longanecker celebrate the 2014 RJ award.

Mollie McGill, Michael Goldstein, Russ Poulin and David Longanecker celebrate the 2014 RJ award.

Congratulations to our 2014 Richard Jonsen Award winner, Michael Goldstein, of Cooley, LLP, who was honored for his commitment to e-learning leadership.  As a pioneer in the development and rational regulation of higher education, Goldstein’s lifetime contributions to the field and to WCET as an organization make him a natural fit for this, WCET’s top award. Learn more in our press release.

Conversation about Competency-based Education

Putting on my best moderator cap, I helped guide a diverse, knowledgeable panel of subject matter experts through this in-depth conversation on competency-based education (CBE).  Our goal for this session was to look beyond the questions of “Is CBE worth it?” and “What is CBE?” to look at how does an institution make CBE a reality on their campus.  We divided the session into four sections:

  • Change Management
  • The Academic Model
  • Technological Supports for CBE
  • Regulatory Approvals

Some key take aways from the session:

  • There is a lot of misunderstanding from faculty on CBE, but once they understand the focus on quality learning outcomes, they are open to the idea.
  • CBE begins with strong assessment and a shared understanding of how learning will be measured.
  • Some institutions need to tweak faculty contracts when moving to CBE, but it really depends on the academic model.
  • Quality = Alignment. (Directly attributable to Stacey Clawson and the most tweeted statement of the session.)
  • Make competencies real – align them with the world of work.
  • Understand that disruptive innovation requires significant investment. (Jeannie Copley)

Resources from WCET, including a forthcoming document from the subject matter experts in this session, are on the CBE Issues Page.

Net Neutrality to Enable Classroom Reality

Mike Abbiatti, SREB and Dave King, Oregon State University were lead in a conversation by Phil Hill, MindWires Consulting regarding the growing issue of how broadband infrastructure will affect e-learning.  As they deemed it – a digital range war – net neutrality could limit a student, or faculty member’s, ability to access course materials.  A couple of take-aways:

  • Bandwidth is the currency of education. (Mike Abbiatti)
  • Frame net neutrality more as keeping our promises to students, less as a technical issue. (Phil Hill)
  • On the net neutrality issue, EDUCAUSE is one voice on behalf of higher ed but others can also help to frame the issue so that the FCC and Congress better understand the impact of net neutrality decisions on the delivery of higher education programs and services.

The Ivory Tower

This new CNN film was mentioned by our opening keynote, Chancellor Zimpher and happened to be airing during the Annual Meeting.  So, WCET arranged a room for attendees to watch together and discuss.  Check out CNN’s Ivory Tower page for more details.  Chancellor Zimpher also wrote a thoughtful response to the film – We Are More Than An Ivory Tower.

Friday, November 21, 2014

DIY U: The Education Revolution

kamenetz talk

Education futurist Anya Kamenetz had an engaged crowd.

Our closing keynote was Anya Kamenetz, education blogger for National Public Radio (NPR) and education futurist.   Some key points of Anya’s talk:

  • Cost+Access+Relevance = Case for Radical Innovation
  • @shannonmedows asked Is it possible to change the economics of trad higher education instituitons under the existence of a faculty governance model?
  • “58% of grade school kids will be employed in careers that don’t exist today.” – Cathy Davidson Now You See It
  • Every discipline is rapidly changing, not just higher education.  Anya has a job that didn’t exist shortly ago – education blogger for a national RADIO station.
  • We don’t want to be preparing people to do things that computers do better. There will always be things people can do better than computers.  Moving forward higher ed should focus on a combination of people and practices.
  • Unbundling, mass customization, networked learning: 3 priorities for the future of higher education.
  • DIY U 2.0:
    • Affordable, Accessible, Relevant
    • Meet me where I am (online/offline)
    • Take me where I want to go (experiential, aspirational, curational)
  • It’s not just about your ship (tools, technology). It’s about the course that you set.  Be true to your mission.
  • Create a culture where curiosity, vulnerability and contributions are rewarded.
  • There is not ONE future for higher education – the strength of the future of higher education is in its diversity.

You can catch the whole session recording of Anya’s talk here.

 Final Thoughts

This great quote was shared by Deb Gearhart, Vice Provost for eLearning and Strategic Partnerships, Ohio University and vice chair of the WCET Steering Committee:  “I came away from the WCET Annual Meeting with a recognition (and confirmation that I am not alone) that all types of institutions are dealing with the issues of their technology infrastructures and processes not meeting their needs.  There is a huge opportunity in higher education for someone to make university systems talk and work with each other.”

And our friend Lisa Johnson made an amazing Learning Summary from her time at WCET:


You can also check out the Storify of the social media from the #WCET14 hashtag for more insights into even more of the annual meeting.

Obviously, I couldn’t be all over at once, so I’d like to thank Mollie McGill for sharing her notes with me as well as all the tweeps who fed the backchannel.  Without you all this would not be near as robust.  If you have learning not reflected here that you’d like to share, please do so in the comments!

And finally, we’d love to see YOU next year at our 2015 WCET Annual Meeting in beautiful downtown Denver, Colorado November 11 – 13, 2015.

Cali Morrison VooDoo Donut

By the glow of the neon, I enjoyed my classic maple bacon VooDoo Donut.


Cali Morrison
Communications Manager





Lisajohnsonphd. (2014, November 23). WCET 2014 conference learning summary [Video file, 22:40]. Retrieved from

#WCET14 Arrives in Portland & Your Desktop

WCET’ers are arriving from all over the nation in beautiful Portland, Oregon to celebrate 26 years of coming together.   This year we’re proud to present a program that brings both big picture, forward thinking ideas and practical applications that support student success.

Highlights Include:

Download the popular WCET mobile program app and start building your schedule!  iOS, Android, and web versions are available for phones and tablets.  This nifty app will allow you to track the sessions you want to get to, download the slides when presenters make them available and take notes during the sessions.  Be sure to check-in when you arrive at your sessions and use the networking functions to meet new friends and find old colleagues.

Tune in to our Award Winners

Congratulations to the 2014 WCET Outstanding Work award recipients who will receive their awards on Thursday during our Awards Lunch:

  • Capella University: FlexPathwowLogo2014
  • Colorado Technical University: intellipath™ for MBA preparation
  • Excelsior College: Online Writing Lab (OWL)
  • Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) Extended Learning Institute:NOVA’s OER-Based Associate Degree Project
  • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee: U-Pace

Stay tuned to learn who receives the 2014 Richard Jonsen Award, which will also be announced during the Awards lunch.

Connect with WCET

Unable to Join us In Portland?

Photo of Cali MorrisonCali Morrison
Communications Manager


Exploring Portland at #WCET14

November 18, 2014

Another Portlandite, Jim Friscia, gives us a look into the fun Portland has to offer to compliment the learning at #WCET14.  Who knows, perhaps the next big thing in e-learning will come from a walk in the Japanese Garden, a conversation over a pint at Deschutes Brewery, or an inspirational sugar high at Voodoo Donuts.

In September, Loraine Schmitt of Portland Community College wrote an excellent post about Portland, the site of WCET’s annual meeting this week. It is chock full of great recommendation of places to eat, drink, shop, and relax. As another long-time resident and promoter of our beautiful city, I can’t help but chime in with some additional ideas for exploring in your free time. (BTW, I do hope some of you are planning to arrive early or stay through the weekend.)

Pioneer by CamKnows

Signs on Pioneer Square by CamKnows

Though you’ll be staying downtown, Portland is a city of neighborhoods, each with its distinct personality and options for exploring. Loraine mentioned the Pearl District and NW 23rd Avenue, but easy public transit options can take you to the Hawthorne District and nearby Division Street on the east side of the river. Division Street has recently become the hottest restaurant destination in our very foodie town. Or, head northeast to the Alberta Arts District and north to Boise-Eliot/Historic Mississippi Avenue, two of the hippest neighborhoods in the city (though you might be interested in learning more about Portland’s gentrification history that affected both of these areas).

We have amazing opportunities to walk, run, and hike in the city. If you’re a morning (or anytime) walker or runner, from the Marriott just cross the street and head north along Waterfront Park to the Steel Bridge. Cross the bridge and head south along the river’s Eastbank Esplanade path, crossing back to downtown on the Hawthorne Bridge. Another easy walk from the hotel is to head south along Waterfront Park and into the South Waterfront neighborhood. Here’s a link to more fabulous walks around the city. And, of course, we are a city of bridges that are fascinating to explore.

Speaking of walks, there are opportunities to join guided group walks that provide perspectives on Portland architecture, culture, and history. Here are two – one of downtown architecture on Friday afternoon, and of Portland’s Old Town/Chinatown district on Saturday morning.

japanese garden michael matti

Japanese Garden by Michael Matti

Are you a hiker? There are over 70 miles of trails in Portland’s Forest Park. This is a jewel of a wild urban park in Northwest Portland that you can easily get to via public transportation. Connected to Forest Park just to the west of downtown is Washington Park, where you can find the Oregon Zoo, the International Rose Test Garden, and the Japanese Garden. The Portland Japanese Garden is one of the most authentic outside of Japan, and the fall colors are beautiful.

Like to explore museums? Just a short walk from the hotel you can find the Portland Art Museum, the Oregon Historical Society, and OMSI (across the river from the hotel).

Enjoy heading out to live music? Portland has a wealth of options and if you want some recommendations, ask me or check out my occasional blog, Jim’s Music Notes.

There are so many tasty places to eat in Portland, from cheap to very expensive, and in virtually every neighborhood. To sort out many of the mindboggling choices, check out the Willamette Week’s current guide to the best restaurants in town. Both Urbanspoon and Yelp also have pages devoted to great places to eat, too. Have a favorite Portland chef? We currently have six James Beard award-winners and a host of notable nominees with restaurants in Portland. You can spend weeks eating here!

And if you’d like to know more about what has shaped the current state of the Portland and why young people “come here to retire,” check out this episode of public radio’s State of the Re:Union.

See you in Portland!

webJFrisciaJim Friscia
Director of Online Education & Learning Technologies
University of Western States
Integrating Health and Science

Nursing Regulation’s Prelicensure Guidelines for Distance Education Programs

November 14, 2014

I’ve had the great pleasure of working with Nancy Spector over the past few years as the National Council of State Boards of Nursing works on the issue of prelicensure Nursing requirements across the states.  They have made significant progress in developing a “home state” model that will eventually require that only the state which the institution considers its home will be responsible for approving its prelicensure distance education programs.  Thank you to Nancy for this guest blog post updating us on their work.  — Russ Poulin

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing[1] (NCSBN) has been working to promote consistency, among the boards of nursing (BONs), with the state approval of prelicensure distance education programs.  Before we talk about this initiative, a little background on why BONs are involved in nursing education is important for you to understand.

In the U.S., prelicensure nursing programs are approved by their BONs before the students can take nursing’s licensure exam (the NCLEX).  Nurse licensure in the U.S. is based on a 2-pronged model.  First the faculty from a BON approved program must sign off that their student is clinically competent and able to take the NCLEX.  Then the board of nursing will make the student eligible to take the NCLEX, which is a computer adapted exam.  When the student passes the NCLEX, he/she can be licensed to practice nursing.  As part of the approval process, BONs evaluate and approve all nursing programs, including those that offer both traditional and distance education programs.

Issues in the Oversight of Distance Education Nursing Programs

Two national reports in nursing have recommended that nurses advance their education (Benner, Sutphen, Leonard & Day, 2010; IOM, 2011).  Distance education programs provide tremendous opportunities for nurses to further their education, particularly by offering quality programs in small communities or rural areas where nursing programs don’t exist or by allowing flexibility for those students who otherwise couldn’t attend a program.  However BONs have reported issues with distance education programs and some educators have complained about the varying BON regulations of the “host” states (where the student is located) with which they must comply.  Therefore, NCSBN’s Board of Directors convened a committee of our membership which met from 2012-2014 to identify the issues that boards of nursing and prelicensure nursing education programs face because of distance education and to develop some recommendations.

Some of the issues the committee identified included:

  • Core education requirements for approving distance education programs are needed so that states/jurisdictions are consistent when approving programs for having students in host states.
  • There is a need for licensure clarification, particularly with faculty who only teach didactic courses, though there was consensus that preceptors or clinical faculty who work with patients be licensed in the host state where the patients are located.
  • BONs in certain states want to know when students from out-of-state programs take clinical experiences in their state.
  • Host states want assurance that students participating in clinical experiences in their states are being supervised by qualified faculty or preceptors.
  • BONs report that the quality of online programs is more varied than with traditional programs and they have requested information on specifics on how to evaluate the quality of distance education programs.
  • Educators are worried about complying with all the different regulations from Boards of Higher Education as well as BONs.

To answer these concerns, the committee members took several steps.  First, we developed relevant definitions:

  • Distance education – Instruction offered by any means where the student and faculty are in separate physical locations. Teaching methods may be synchronous or asynchronous and shall facilitate and evaluate learning in compliance with BON approval status/regulations.
  • Home state – Where the program has legal domicile.
  • Host state – State/jurisdiction outside the home state where students participate in clinical experiences or didactic courses.

Changing the Need for Approval in Every Host State

Then, after conducting interviews, conference calls and surveys with our BONs, educators, and with representatives of the new National Council of State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (NC-SARA) organization, we developed guidelines for BONs that were translated into model administrative Rule/Act language[2] and adopted at NCSBN’s 2014 annual meeting.  The summarized guidelines are:

  1. Distance education programs must meet the same approval guidelines as any other program.
  2. Only the home state approves distance education programs.
  3. Home state ensures faculty supervision over clinical students in the host states.
  4. (a) Clinical faculty or preceptors are licensed where the patients/students are located. (b) Faculty who only teach didactic content are licensed in the home state.  Model licensure exemption language was developed to allow for this.
  5. BONs will include a question on their annual reports on whether students are engaging in clinical experiences in host states.

The committee encouraged the BONs to make these changes by 2020, which is in line with other national nursing education recommendations (IOM, 2011).  We developed a model (Figure 1, below) that clearly depicts the role of the home and host state with these new guidelines.  A major difference is that there will need to be more collaboration among the home and host states for program approval and for allowing programs to enroll students in host states.  Please see Lowery & Spector (2014) for a more comprehensive discussion of this committee work.

Venn diagram with "Collaboration for Public Protection" in the middle.  The role of Home and Host states is in the circles on each side.

Figure 1: Role of the home and host state in new NCSBN guidelines.

Website and Virtual Conference for Further Information

To support these efforts, NCSBN has developed a Distance Education web page with resources for BONs and educators.  This web page has a link for host states distance education requirements that educators have found valuable:  NCSBN is also planning a virtual conference on April 28, 2015, for its BONs, which will feature Dr. Diane Skiba as a keynote presenter on the future of distance education and Dr. Diane Billings talking about quality indicators for distance education programs.  There will be plenty of time for dialogue, as well as panel discussions on the issues.  A special session will highlight the NC-SARA initiatives and Case Western Reserve’s new massive open online course (MOOC) on quality improvement.

What’s Next?

For next steps, NCSBN’s Board of Directors has convened a second committee, the APRN Distance Education Committee, which will develop guidelines for graduate programs with distance education courses.  With that new initiative, we will also develop a web page that will list all host state requirements for graduate nursing programs.  That work should be completed by August 2015.

It is imperative for BONs and educators to work together to promote excellent learning outcomes with distance education, which in turn will improve the quality and safety of patients. Authentic conversations will be essential as we move forward together.


Benner, P., Sutphen, M., Leonard, V. & Day, L. (2010). Educating nurses: A call for radical reform. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Institute of Medicine (2011). The future of nursing: Leading change, advancing health. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Lowery, B. & Spector, N. (2014). Regulatory implications and recommendations for distance education in prelicensure nursing programs. Journal of Nursing Regulation, 5(3), 24-33.


Nancy Spector Photo


Nancy Spector, PhD, RN
Director, Regulatory Innovations
National Council of State Boards of Nursing



[1] The National Council of Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) is composed of the 59 member boards, which include 50 states, the District of Columbia, and four territories (Virgin Islands, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa).  Three boards of nursing have RN and practical nurse boards and one board has an RN and advance practice registered nurse board.  .  The mission of NCSBN is to provide provides education, service, and research through collaborative leadership to promote evidence-based regulatory excellence for patient safety and public protection. The mission of our BONs is to protect the public.

[2] NCSBN’s model administrative Rule and Act language is developed by our members for the BONs to use as they write and revise their administrative Rules and Practice Act.  The NCSBN Model Rules and Act can be found here:

The OER Trifecta: Access, Affordability and Student Success

A 2014 WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) Award winner, the Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) OER-Based Associate Degree Project has saved its students nearly half a million dollars in its pilot year.  Read on as Wm. Preston Davis, Director of Instructional Services, shares with us the values, processes and outcomes of this innovative program.

When I joined NOVA four years ago, I was almost overwhelmed by the size and scope of the institution. NOVA is one of the largest Community Colleges in the nation, serving a broad and diverse student population of over 70,000 students. NOVA also has one of the largest and most robust distance learning programs in the country, with 25,000 students enrolled in online courses. I immediately saw the importance of the college to the extended community, and envisioned a program that could help to alleviate some of the challenges facing students at NOVA by utilizing open educational resources.

OER Associate Degree Project

NOVA’s OER-Based Associate Degree Project is a comprehensive approach to addressing concerns over access, affordability and student success. There are three major goals of NOVA’s OER-Based Associate Degree Project:

  • To increase access to higher education. By making sure that each course includes all of the course materials and resources that students need, we are putting all students on the same level.  Each student has equal access to the same information, ensuring fairness and equality among all students enrolled in the OER course.
  • To make higher education more affordable. By eliminating the burden of additional textbook costs for students, the actual cost of taking an OER course is reduced.  Often, this is a significant reduction in cost which translates to considerable savings over time. This can result in much lower student debt, making attaining the Associate Degree easier and more valuable.
  • To increase student success at NOVA. By giving all students in an OER course equal access, and removing the burden of additional expenses to those who can least afford them, students have a better chance of being successful in the course, continuing their enrollment, and achieving their academic goals.

NOVA’s OER-Based Associate Degree Project is a two-phase project. In phase 1, we focused on a series of first-year, high-enrollment general education courses leading to a general studies certificate. In phase 2, we continued with a series of second-year, high-enrollment courses which allowed us to develop two full Associate Degree track options that use free and open educational resources.

Educational Technology

Open By Jeremy Brooks on FlickrWe developed our OER-Based Associate Degree Project to be delivered online, so that any student at any NOVA campus could have the opportunity to take these courses.  Our online students are familiar with technology and find having OER embedded into their online courses conducive to their learning.

Building digital content and resources into an online course helps to better engage the learner and keep them focused on the course material.  This leads to better knowledge retention, better course outcomes, improves their information literacy skills, and better prepares students to function more effectively in technology adapted careers.

Planning and Implementation

To accomplish this large and challenging project, it was crucial to build a team of dedicated and skilled faculty and staff who shared my vision. We had support from college leadership, and maximized our internal resources to accomplish our goals efficiently and effectively. Our Distance Learning Librarians provided guidance and expertise in locating and curating information and materials. Our Instructional Designers provided content organization and online instructional delivery expertise. Most importantly, we recruited select faculty with a history of innovative teaching as the content experts to design and teach the new OER courses.


The team-based adoption and implementation model developed for NOVA’s OER-Based Associate Degree Project can be applied by any institution.  The model is scalable and is applicable to traditional, hybrid and online modalities.  Furthermore, this model can be adapted to the level of education offered by the institution.  Several other institutions have already begun development of an OER Certificate program based on our model.

We have seen immediate benefits of the OER-Based Associate Degree project, measuring cost-savings to students in hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the impact that these OER courses have on each individual student and their success in reaching their educational goals is the true measure of success.  Over time, as our graduation rates grow and student debt shrinks, my colleagues and I will take great satisfaction in the difference that this OER project has made at NOVA and beyond.

Want to learn more? Join me in Portland for my session – OER-Based Associate Degree Program on Friday, Nov. 21 at 9:30 am.

W.Preston Davis headshotWm. Preston Davis, Ed.D.

Director of Instructional Services

Northern Virginia Community College



Photo Credit: Jeremy Brooks on Flickr

Big Data, Analytics and Reflections on Student Success

Today we feature Ellen Wagner, Chief Strategy Officer, Predictive Analytics Reporting (PAR) Framework as she takes us on a tour of the post-secondary big data landscape, including reflections on the first three years of the PAR Framework.

It Begins With Big Data

One of the surest signs that a technology trigger is starting its roller-coaster ride through the (Gartner) Hype cycle of innovation is when the name we all call that trigger becomes a part of the public lexicon.

Today, Big Data is an all-encompassing term used to describe data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using traditional data processing applications. A quick search of Google Trends shows that references to Big Data started to appear in web references, literature, and popular press back in 2007, after Tom Davenport and Jeanne Harris published their book Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning (Harvard Business Review, 2007). Today, after only seven years, a Google search on Big Data will result in more than 857 million search results being surfaced. Big Data is so pervasive as an idea that it has become a meme, standing for something even bigger and more transformative than the data themselves. The term has come to stand for the idea that the records of activity that we leave in the path of our various digital engagements is just waiting to be mined by service providers, beacons, and embedded code strings, all in the service of optimized, personalized experience.

Big Data Landscape v 3.0 imageThis Big Data Landscape 3.0 graphic by Matt Turck et al provides a high level visual representation of the breadth and complexity of the Big Data landscape.  What is notable about this particular depiction is that very few of the companies in this graphic have very much to do with providing products and services for the post-secondary educational market in the United States. Some of the larger firms do have education lines of business, but these exist as part of a product company’s vertical market strategy rather than being explicitly aimed at big data services in education. The explanation for this apparent oversight is a simple one.  Although Big Data has certainly ramped up expectations of accountability and transparency in higher education settings, most of the data driving decision-making in higher education comes to us in columns and rows. Data sets that present in columns and rows can certainly be massive in number; however, data reported in columns and rows is still too small to be considered a true Big Data asset.

Nevertheless, meme of Big Data has been an effective catalyst to help people start to imagine what it will take to move away from authority-driven decision-making in post-secondary education and to establish a culture of evidence-based decision-making. But at a more systemic level, the ability to leverage insights to anticipate opportunities for optimizing effectiveness will be one of the key attributes demonstrated by data-savvy organizations and enterprises. How we license our digital textbooks will have everything to do with data related to use and student performance; the design of adaptive and personalized experiences will all depend upon data to filter, aggregate, assemble and exchange content, assessments and engagements.

Learner Analytics

So it should be no surprise that interest in learner analytics – predictive, inferential and descriptive alike – has grown steadily in recent years. The Learning Analytics and Knowledge conferences provided a venue for exploring dimensions of learning analytics research. The Society for Learning Analytics Research (SoLAR) helps explore the role and impact of analytics on teaching, learning training and deveIstock photo chartlopment. Purdue University’s Signals was among the first examples of using predictive analytics to identify students at risk, using a simple green – orange – red color scheme to flag students according to their risk probabilities. Sinclair College’s Student Success Plan provided early predictive case management support in the category for what is now emerging as Integrated Planning and Advising Systems (IPAS) tools and platforms. Rio Salado College used their PACE system to anticipate students at risk. Austin Peay University’s Degree Compass gave people an Amazon-like experience for course selection. Institutions including the American Public University System and the University of Phoenix made significant advancements in building sophisticated predictive analytics models to find students at risk. But it was the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s investments in action analytics which helped jump-start and sustain multiple initiatives focused on building capacity to support using data to support and enable decision-making. In the post-secondary educational arena, these include Achieving the Dream , Completion by Design, as well as multiple waves of Next Generation Learning Challenges awards.  PAR, the Predictive Analytics Reporting Framework , received its first of several round of funding from the Gates Foundation in May, 2011.

PAR – From a Big Audacious Idea to a Collaborative, Non-Profit Venture

PAR Framework LogoFor the past three years the PAR Framework core staff and institutional members have created one of the largest student outcomes data resources ever assembled, from the voluntary contributions of de-identified student record from each of our member institutions.  We learned very early on that the common data definitions created to facilitate the exchange of records also provided us with the lexicon required for talking with one another about student risk, persistence, and success between and within institutions. We provide members with comparative benchmark reports. We provide localized predictive models generate a risk score for each (de-identified) student in the sample for each of our member institutions, and with access to dashboards for student watch-lists for designated professional staff including advisors and faculty.

The PAR Student Success Matrix (SSMX) then helps institutions comprehensively assess their student success policies, interventions and programs by organizing the wide variety of student supports – from orientation to mentoring to advising – into a systematic validated framework designed to quantify the impact of student success practices and determine the best support for students at the point of need.  The SSMx also reveals gaps and overlaps in student support programs and gives institutions the tools to evaluate the efficacy of their investments at the program level.  The common PAR measures for assessing and predicting risk and the validated frameworks categorizing student support services create the mechanism to effectively measure the impact of student supports within and across institutions.  


I was recently asked if I have been surprised by any of the things we have learned as PAR has evolved from a big audacious idea into being a learner analytics as a service provider for our members. I allowed that I have had three big surprises.

  • One of my biggest surprises has been the realization that even the most finely honed predictions of student risk are of marginal value if predictions of risk are not directly tied to actions to mitigate risks before those risks become realities. I have come to understand that prediction is the first step in a virtuous cycle of evidence-informed decision-making. By starting with a prediction of risk one can identify essential success behaviors that have been shown to mitigate the diagnosed risk. From this second step in the cycle, and with a diagnosis in hand, it is possible to link students with interventions designed to address diagnosed risks before they becomes a problem. Measures for assessing the relative impact and efficacy of that intervention can be linked to predictions of risk, bringing the cycle to its completion.
  • I have also been a little bit surprised that PAR’s common data definitions have turned out to be so strategically significant in our student success work. More to the point, I knew there were going to be essential for us to share data among multiple institutions. I just hadn’t realized that sharing our definitions would be useful for many others just getting started in analytics work. PAR’s common data definitions were recently identified as a key competitive advantage in this year’s Gartner Research Education Hype Cycle, 2014 Report . It is very satisfying to know that our efforts to create common data definitions have helped us communicate within and across data initiatives, with PAR’s openly published data definitions providing a stake in the ground for defining what we collectively mean when we talk about outcome measures and student success. More than 2,000 entities have downloaded our openly licensed definitions since we published it in 2013. PAR’s definitions have been cited in IMS Global’s Caliper specification,  and in Unizen’s  organizing documentation. PAR’s common data definition gives data projects a foundation for interchange, operating as a Rosetta Stone of student success data.
  • The third surprise, and perhaps the most satisfying one of all of my “big surprises” has been the degree to which educators, coming from all over the post-secondary ecosystem, will figure out ways to work together in the service of student success.We’ve seen that data of all shapes and sizes helps better inform the decisions we can make at ALL levels of the institution so that ALL education stakeholders –  students, faculty and administration are better prepared to succeed. Whether online, blended or on-the ground, whether state funded or publicly traded, whether we are two year or four year institutions, whether we are traditional or progressive – we know we can move the needle when student success is everyone’s passion.

The PAR Framework community is actively looking for forward-thinking institutional partners to join us in our efforts to launch a culture of evidence based decision-making in the service of student success. Please join us in Portland to learn more about becoming a part of the PAR community.

Photo of Ellen Wagner


Ellen Wagner, Chief Strategy Officer
PAR Framework

New Gainful Employment Regulations Tied to State Authorization

This morning, the U.S. Department of Education released a 945 page document describing its new “Gainful Employment” (GE) regulations. An informal version is available on the Department’s website and the final version will be published in the Federal Register on October 31.  Except for the quote from Inside Higher Ed, the other quotes are taken from an early release of the final document that I was able to view.

New to these regulations is an explicit connection between Gainful Employment and the state authorization regulations. As a result, the amount of information that will need to be reported and the number of states for which it will need to be reported could dramatically expand over what was published in the original proposed regulation.

Originally, colleges would have to report in the state in which they were located and also in their local Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). The expansion means that institutions will be required to inform students about programs licensure, certification, and accreditation for each GE program for each state in which it must meet the federal state authorization rules.Sign reading "Help Wanted Apply within".

Currently, there is no federal regulation for state authorization for distance education, so it is not yet enforceable. Should that regulation be reinstated, the Gainful Employment notification regulations will be triggered in each state in which the college needs to be authorized for each program that is covered by Gainful Employment. We have heard that the Department may release proposed language for a new federal state authorization regulation sometime in 2015.

What is Gainful Employment?

Gainful Employment has been a controversial subject for several years. Its purpose, according to an article in today’s Inside Higher Ed:

“Gainful employment applies to vocational programs, including most of the for-profit sector’s offerings. Non-degree programs at community colleges would also need to comply with the rules, which are set to go into effect in July 2015. So would some non-degree programs at four-year nonprofit institutions, both public and private.”

The reason for the Gainful Employment rules are:

“Specifically, the Department is concerned that number of GE programs: (1) do not train students in the skills they need to obtain and maintain jobs in the occupation for which the program purports to provide training, (2) provide training for an occupation for which low wages do not justify program costs, and (3) are experiencing a high number of withdrawals or “churn” because relatively large numbers of students enroll but few, or none, complete the program, which can often lead to default. “

As a result, they will create a “transparency network” that will:

“…increase the transparency of student outcomes of GE programs so that students, prospective students, and their families have accurate and comparable information to help them make informed decisions about where to invest their time and money in pursuit of a postsecondary degree credential.”

Must Disclose Licensure, Certification, and Accreditation Info for GE Programs

The regulation will require colleges to disclose their licensure, certification, and accreditation status to students in Gainful Employment programs:

“We are…eliminating the proposal for program certifications to cover the States within an MSA, and requiring instead that the institutions provide applicable program certification in any State where the institution is otherwise required to obtain State approval under 34 CFR 600.9.”

As a reminder, §600.9 is the federal state authorization regulation. As stated in the paragraph below, the current federal state authorization regulation is only for states where an institution has a physical location:

“The current State authorization regulations apply to States where an institution has a physical location, and the program certification requirements also apply in those States so these two sets of requirements are aligned.”

But it goes on to hint that it will also include distance education if that regulation returns:

“If any changes are made in the future to extent the State authorization requirements in 34 600.9 to apply in other States, we intend the program certification requirement to remain aligned…We believe that the requirements for the applicable program certifications should also be provided for those States. This will ensure a program and institution that provides the program have the necessary State approvals for purposes of the Title IV, HEA programs. Linking the State certification requirements in §668.414(d)(2) with the State authorization regulations in §600.9 to identify States where institutions must obtain the applicable approvals benefits students and prospective students because the State authorization requirements include additional student projections for student enrolled in the programs for which certifications would be required.”

And a final reason for doing this…

“…institutions may be required to include on a program’s disclosure template whether the program meets the licensure, certification, and accreditation requirements of States…for which the institution has made a determination regarding those requirements so that students who intend to seek employment in those other States can consider this information before enrolling in the program.”


There are an unsettling number of colleges who are not transparent with students about this information. While Gainful Employment has definitely targeted the for-profit sector, there are plenty of institutions from other sectors who have not informed students about whether their program will meet local requirements.
I’ve only had a few hour to review this regulation. Some people did not think it was their job, it will be now.

I would not be surprised if there is not significant push-back and possible lawsuits regarding the whole regulation.

As I learn more, I’ll let you know.


Russell Poulin
Deputy Director, Research & Analysis
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
Twitter: @wcet_info and @russpoulin


Photo credit: MorgueFile


Community Colleges Adapt to CBE for the Benefit of Their Students

At your cooperative, we’re always happy to share the learning of our members.  Sharing with us today is Sally Johnstone, Vice President for Academic Advancement at Western Governors University, about the work WGU has done with community colleges to launch CBE programs and the resources they have produced, which are open to all.

As some of you may be aware, Western Governors University has been working with almost a dozen community colleges across the country for the last two years.  Our role was to help them develop their own competency-based degree (CBE) programs. The staff members and faculty at these colleges worked at an incredible pace to incorporate the basic tenants of a CBE into their new programs. They were all faced with many challenges from both within and outside their institutions.  They met these challenges creatively and within the context of their own campus cultures.

cbe wgu 2300pxAmong them the colleges now have over 3,000 students enrolled in CBE programs.  The lessons they learned in their journeys from being vaguely aware of CBE to launching their own programs are being collected.  This week we launched  It is site to help other community colleges learn from the pioneering work of Austin Community College, Bellevue College, Broward College, Columbia Basin College, Edmonds Community College, IVY Tech at both Fort Wayne and Lafayette, Lone Star College’s University Campus, Sinclair Community College, and Spokane Falls Community College.

One of the most remarkable aspects of all their work is that they integrated CBE into their regular campus operations. That effort has already enabled several of colleges to expand their CBE activities from a single degree or certificate program to include other academic areas.  The preliminary evidence indicating improvement in student success encouraged faculty and staff not involved in the initial projects to pay attention.

Accommodating Campus Cultures

The varieties in the campus cultures I mention above include both strong and loose system arrangements plus almost total autonomy.  Some campuses had faculty unions, some did not.  Some campuses were in states that tend to micromanage academic activities, like requiring A – F grades in each course.  These grades become meaningless when students are progressing by demonstrating mastery of the courses and working at different paces to achieve it.  The solution in this case was to assign a grade but redefine ‘passing’.  At a different campus, the faculty did not have state mandates to assign grades, but their student information system did require it.  Their solution was to consider an ‘A’ or ‘B.’ If a student earned a ‘C’ or lower he/she was allowed to continue working toward the degree but in a more traditional distance learning program.

As you explore the lessons on the site, you will also notice that the organizational structure to support CBE was dependent on the culture at each college.  For example, at Sinclair Community College they already had in place a sophisticated distance learning support center.  The faculty on campus were used to working with instructional designers who used common course templates.  This was a very good fit for the development of their CBE program.  In addition, they had developed technological tracking systems that allowed them to flag at risk distance learning students.  This was adapted to their CBE program and helped their academic coaches know which students might be struggling with their courses.

In contrast, at Austin Community College they did not have a centralized distance learning operation.  Consequently they created a support structure for CBE students and the faculty developing the courses within the academic department in which the program was housed.  It was a good way to get started, but as other academic departments are beginning to develop their own CBE programs, the staff in the Dean’s office is developing a new plan that will have some of the characteristics of the Sinclair center.

Interaction with the pioneers

Throughout this whole project all the colleges have been learning from one another. They will continue to do so as they modify their initial practices to better serve their students.  We now invite you to join in that sharing process.  Within is a Discussion option.  The staff and faculty from the partnering colleges have agreed to pay attention to questions and comments in that section and share what they have learning and are learning.

I look forward to seeing you online.


Johnstone,SallySally M. Johnstone
Vice President for Academic Advancement
Western Governors University


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