Higher Education Leaders Showcase Innovation Strategies

Throughout the pandemic, leaders of higher education have successfully rethought and retooled pedagogy to embrace the blended learning world. During Fierce Education’s “2021 Fierce Leaders in Higher Ed”, higher education leaders, faculty and technologists discussed innovative ways of teaching and using technologies to better engage students, while evaluating new business models to attract and retain students.

The session welcomed Dr. Joe Sallustio, Executive Vice President and Chief operation Officer at Claremont Lincoln University, and Dr. Eva Ponce, Research Scientist at MIT’s Center for Transportation & Logistics and the Executive Director of the MITx MicroMasters Program in Supply Chain Management. Both are innovators in their institutions’ enrollment, curriculum and career programming.

At Claremont Lincoln, one of the first shifts in business when COVID-19 hit was a reset on tuition. Sallustio and his team decided to reimagine the business model around the new higher ed student: one who lacked trust in the system, was debt conscious, and had access to many other post-secondary education options.

“A Fierce leader has to make bold choices,” Sallustio told the audience. So, in order to fulfill the university’s mission to offer socially conscious education, the school instituted a 21% reduction in all course fees. In just one week the school was able to make the financial changes for currently enrolled students to reflect the new pricing.

Claremont Lincoln’s second mission as Fierce leadership included shifting the expectations and outlook for the school’s faculty and administration.

“Employees are still risk-averse in hybrid education,” Sallustio said. He noted that while there was much concern over keeping students safe while still fulfilling their education needs, leaders also needed to consider the safety of the faculty. And beyond safety, the administration needed to rethink the best use of a faculty member’s time and money, whether that meant online or in-person instruction.

Finally, Claremont Lincoln wanted to be a leader in solutions to the problems surrounding the pandemic. Therefore, the university raised money and extended fellowships to students in public administration.

“We needed to prepare these leaders who will ultimately set policy to help us all recover from the pandemic,” he said.

Preparing students for future leadership was also a big priority for MITx MicroMasters Program in Supply Chain Management. The program, which launched in January 2016, aims to democratize knowledge, bringing supply chain management information to anyone, anywhere. The program currently includes 500,000 learners across 190 countries. Since its beginning, 50,000 students have received certificates.

Ponce works on bringing MIT’s supply chain courses to the masses, including nontraditional learners. Students who finish the certificate program online in 18 months are then invited to apply to the master’s program at MIT, which can be completed in just one additional semester.

One of the benefits of the program is that it supports students, communities, the economy, and the workforce.

“We want to provide education and also provide it in a way that, at the end of the day, adds value to the industry,” Ponce said.

Moving forward, MIT’s MicroMasters Program will continue to focus on omnichannel education that combines the best of the online and in-person pedagogy.

At the close of the session, Sallustio and Ponce discussed the importance of customer-centered, or student-centered, offerings to growing and sustaining the business of higher education.

“If you look at a business model, online learning offers a different mode of learning yes, but universities are looking for any advantage to survive, especially those without a lucrative endowment,” Sallustio said. “So, you can offer residential education as a value proposition. Ultimately the effective business model relies heavily on an affective learning model.”

Ponce agreed that the success of the higher education business model means incorporating the best tools from online instruction with offline or personal interactions.

“Asynchronous learning can be a long and lonely journey,” she said. “So, we compliment online instruction with some real-life interaction.”

In addition, Ponce noted that customization and blended learning can get expensive for the institution, so she recommended creating modular programs that can be tailored for each course as needed.

“For curriculum designers, it is hard to choose the right content, the right approach, the right delivery channel, right methodology, and right pedagogy,” she added.

For more articles from Fierce Education’s “2021 Fierce Leaders in Higher Ed” event, see: