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A Networked Approach to Campus Collaboration

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Higher ed is in an interesting cultural moment right now. Just as online program enrollment grows, other small colleges are closing. Public trust also is waning as people perceive the cost outpacing the value (among many other variables like “free speech” which warrant their own posts).

As institutions navigate this landscape, it may feel natural to dig in and start fighting off the competition. I recommend doing the opposite. We need to network together and collaborate in order to better support students throughout the higher ed ecosystem.

Professionals are already doing this at conferences once a year and through informal connections, but it is a mindset that needs to be more consistent all year long.

Here are some ideas and how they can be impactful for students:

Open Access to Opportunity

No campus exists as an island. They are part of greater communities that have diverse sets of needs. Closing off an institution does itself and the community a disservice. There should be open access for the community to come in, especially those pursuing degrees at neighboring institutions. Whether it’s space for events or something more profound like shuttles around town, career fairs, campus internships, or access to other large scale programs, these types of partnerships create opportunities that might be inaccessible for a smaller institution.

Regular Local Learning Communities

Something I’ve been inspired by, which I hope exists in other regions, is local higher ed focused learning communities within regions or cities. One I am personally familiar with is Baltimore Collegetown. In addition to regular socials, they also convene functional area groups for knowledge sharing and opportunities for collaboration. If anything can be done to better support students pursuing higher education, no matter where they’re doing it, we are all better for it. There are only positives associated with more students retaining and not taking on debt without a credential. Bringing together bright minds to come up with great ideas can achieve this mutual goal.

Sharing Educational Assets

This is something we’re all familiar with through Harvard Business School case studies. It can and should be more proliferated with other learning assets.  High quality, engaging video lectures, educational technology, and perhaps guest speakers (see point above about large scale programming). Bringing together different institutions to chip in allows for greater outcomes that no one would be able to achieve alone. In the end, the students benefit and no single stakeholder has to pay as much or take on as much risk.

Students are well served by a diversity of institutions working together to satisfy their needs within the greater network of higher education. A few large institutions enrolling all students doesn’t need to be the reality. Working together in a smart, mutually beneficial way can create more positive outcomes for everyone.

We need to rethink the way we collaborate as higher ed professionals. It must go from a single moment at a conference, to an ongoing and active process that leaves egos at the door, puts competition aside, and works to realize the greater potential that exists when we work together.