There’s been a lot of buzz this week about how Stanford has announced their new “open loop university” where undergraduates can take more than 4 years to loop in and out of the university between school and work to earn their undergraduate degrees. While I think this is a cool idea – and I hate to steal Stanford’s thunder, (along with the Chronicle of Higher Education, that loves to focus mainly on undergraduate education), both and all have been ignoring the fact that many of us…have already created our own open loop university situations on our very own.
What I mean by this is – there are tons of professionals in the U.S. workforce that have been going back to school on a part time or full time basis while working. I’ve been back to school since undergrad 3 times now. I work with a lot of colleagues, and most of my friends in law school, were in this exact situation. They worked and they went to school at the same time, re-tooling their skills and their careers.
So, kudos to Stanford for putting a label on this. However, what I think smart colleges and universities should do is create a massive, open online university – a MOOU (yes, I ripped this off from MOOCs), and create students for life.
How might this work? Well, let’s begin with what happens now. You go to a 4-year undergraduate program. You graduate. Maybe, just maybe if the university has a decent alumni affairs office, you join the alumni group and then receive propaganda from the university (typically in the form of a slick glossy quarterly book on all the wonderful things happening at the university, with a section in the back for alumni updates). If you have a bad university alumni affairs office, you don’t even get that. Maybe you just get called incessantly during the annual capital campaign to give give give, but get nothing in return for it.
What I propose instead is the college or university creating a culture of students for life. That could mean a closed portal of opportunities for alumni to get engaged with the university – as in, come back and guest lecture, come back and interview students, come back and be a part of campus. But even better, I think the university could offer the following: “If you’re an alum of our university, come back and take a new class in 5 years of graduation.” No silly paperwork, graduate entry exams, or even dollars associated with it.
Wait. What? A free class within 5 years of graduation? Yes. This will re-engage the alums to experience the cultural changes at the university. Then, you offer it again at 10 years. Then 15, 20 and so-on!
But what about costs? Well, if you have a course that’s completely maxed out, maybe not. But if you have open space in courses, why not? Does it really cost more to let someone audit a course? And, if this is truly something that is a cultural change, universities should charge more at the undergraduate level, and ensure that students are aware that they aren’t students just for 4 years – they are now students of the university FOR LIFE.
Furthermore, if a university really wanted to create students for life, they’d have a graduate funnel and plan to turn those graduates into advocates for the university, and ultimately students AND teachers on campus. A certain percentage of grads should come back and run the institution to some extent. Part of this development plan could include furthering one’s education.
As an alum of 4 different universities now, I have to say that none of the 4 has ever offered me the option to return to campus and take a class for free to polish my skills. They haven’t even marketed this stuff to me, even for a discount. There is so much opportunity here, and with the average human living until age 80 now, there’s absolutely no reason why universities can’t focus on alumni engagement and create MOOUs and students for life moving forward. In fact, I no longer think this is a nice to have, but a MUST HAVE for universities if they wish to survive in the 21st century.
I’m glad someone at least is thinking about it. I predict the schools that get more creative with alumni engagement will be successful in the long run, because they’re re-engaging with their best customers.