What Innovation in Higher Ed Can Look Like

I found New Charter University through Twitter– they sponsored a tweet about the cost of community college versus the cost of gas. I actually gasped when I saw their website.

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First of all, how great is NEW.edu as a url? Fast. Easy.

But then… The site is simple. Clean. Straightforward. Not glitzy. Not trying to dazzle you with gizmos. Easy to read. Simple to navigate. What you hope your education will be, too.

Their pitch– graduating with a degree from a respected source debt free– is totally current.

Check their highlights:

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Affordable. Easy to understand. Under your control. Under their care.

And then there’s this:

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Want to enroll? They have one click sign up through Facebook & Twitter:

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That’s right. They let you enroll through your Facebook or Twitter account. You can audit as long as you like. Try before you buy– for education. If you decide you like it, you get to keep all of the accumulated work you’ve done.

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That’s one heck of a front door experience.

They’re saying “We’ve been taking notes on what all of those other online educators are doing and here’s how we’re improving on it.” In every possible way.

What makes this innovative? It is a better, theoretically more effective education product than other things currently on the market. It’s taking a concept and tweaking it, improving it. It’s breaking the rules in every possible way, from the website design, which is aggressively plain and non-“collegiate”, to their pricing. It’s creative.

It turns out that New Charter (based in San Francisco) used to be Andrew Jackson University (based in Birmingham, AL). Andrew Jackson had a good reputation in the distance learning sphere. But New Charter adopted a competency based model and decided to change both its name and its physical location (although, as an entirely virtual institution, location isn’t actually that important).

Does this concept do anything to close the skills gap? Doubtful. It’s a consumer-driven model that allows anyone to get the academic bona fides (AA, BA, BS, MBA) that are the keys to the kingdom of stability and prosperity. There is no alignment with what employers need. It’s not a connecting point, which is a crucial role community colleges fill.

It is definitely innovative, however.

I wonder if any of this would be applicable in a brick-and-mortar setting.