I attended the recent 2007 Annual Meeting of the the National Governors Association (NGA), which was organized around NGA Chair Janet Napolitano's "Innovation America" initiative. The NGA's two keynote speakers were Eric Schmidt (Google CEO) and Randall Stephenson (AT&T CEO). Their comments highlighted the interdependencies between innovation, technology, and postsecondary education. They emphasized the competencies needed in today's workforce, strategies for optimizing higher education's investments in R&D, challenges facing the U.S. in the global marketplace, and the need for governors to work more closely with the private sector to stimulate innovation in the economy and in higher education. Both emphasized that education at all levels in the U.S. must address accountability and access. [Note: Accountability (for learning, programs, and expenses) and access (affordability, convenience, and capacity) are the defining themes of this blog.] Stephenson argued that the continued competitiveness of the nation and its social well-being depend on each leg of a "three-leg stool:" telecommunications, deregulation, and an educated workforce. Schmidt noted that higher education should make better use of technology in its core teaching and learning mission.
The second day's plenary session focused on the NGA's Compact for Postsecondary Education, which was developed under the Innovation America initiative. Speakers Aims McGuinness (National Center for Higher Education Management Systems) and Patrick Callan (President, National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education) commented on progress to date on the compact -- somewhat encouraging, but far from systemic. The goal of the compact is to align postsecondary education with states' economic needs in order to position the states to compete in the global economy through a highly-skilled workforce -- what I have called "program accountability" in my papers and in this blog. In return for meeting their state's workforce and economic development needs, state-supported institutions are to be granted increased autonomy and stability in state funding.
These efforts and other work being done by the governors on a bipartisan basis are evidence that the states are stepping in where the federal government has yet to have much of an impact, in spite of a number of sound recommendations from the Spellings Commission. At the inter-state level, however, a number of governors have agreed that their individual states will develop statewide "unit-record" databases and integrate them across state lines. You'll recall from the report of the Spellings Commission that "unit-record" database refers to records that are student oriented -- that allow researchers to follow the student (in the aggregate) rather than as a student at only the institution of initial enrollment.
Similarly, a number of states eventually will participate in "Making Opportunity Affordable," an initiative supported by the Lumina Foundation and led and managed by the Foundation, Jobs for America, and other partner organizations. The goal of MOA (my interpretation as a member of the MOA national advisory group) is to improve productivity in higher education on a broad scale over time by simultaneously improving the:
- participation in and attainment rates of degree and certificate programs across the U.S. equally across the national socioeconomic demographic,
- direct outcomes of the learning process (externally verified to the extent possible), and
- unit expenses (per-student or some other unit measure of operational expenses).
Simultaneous improvement in these three dimensions (program accountability, learning accountability, and expense accountability in the lexicon of this blog) amounts to increased academic productivity.
Bravo to the NGA and MOA!