Game-Changing Reforms in Higher Education

Emerging education reforms show promise for increasing program completion, reducing costs, and improving quality.

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At a recent convening of the Alliance of States, Complete College America, a national nonprofit dedicated to growing the pool of American college graduates, advocated for the adoption of five of what it calls “game-changer” strategies that could dramatically increase the number of students who successfully complete college. Well-reasoned and artfully explained, one is left to wonder why any institution or state system would not immediately adopt all five strategies. Indeed, it is clear from the evidence presented by Complete College America that implementing these “game changers” would result in more degrees and other educational credentials being awarded while closing attainment gaps for traditionally underrepresented populations. Also, significantly, no changes in federal policy are necessary to drive forward with the reforms, although some federal policy changes could undoubtedly help quicken the pace of adoption.

One of the game changers—Guided Pathways to Success, or GPS—addresses what is perhaps the most longstanding problem plaguing the American postsecondary education system: the lack of clear pathways for students to take them through postsecondary education to a career. Under the GPS model, students start in a limited number of meta-majors—a set of courses to meet academic requirements across a range of disciplines and programs—and ultimately complete a specific major through a highly structured degree plan. Under these degree plans, every semester of the program would be tightly structured to assure that students have access to key milestone courses when they need them. Technology would be in place to warn advisors when students fall behind so that they can offer timely and effective intervention. One question left unanswered, however, is whether the degree attained at the end of the GPS process will meet the workforce needs of employers.

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