Innovation in higher education has mostly been relegated to individual campuses, often in the form of a small pilot program. A college tests an initiative with a small pool of students, and if the data look promising, it may expand it—eventually. What colleges want now, they say, is scale. Enter crowdsourcing.
Academia is turning to the power of crowdsourcing to solve one of its most pressing problems: how to better serve and adapt to the changing needs of first-year students who are more likely to work full-time and support a family, and are also increasingly low-income and first-generation, many of them students of color.
Historically, innovating and implementing new ideas in academia is slow. Humboldt State University, for example, offers one-on-one mentoring for first-year, first-generation students. Last year, it launched a STEM program for first-time freshmen that promotes hands-on, interdisciplinary learning. Though successful, both are small—built for 75 students in the case of the STEM program; the mentoring program is not yet offered to all eligible first-years.
“We haven't yet been able to build out everything to get to everybody and we still have a retention rate and four- and six-year graduation rates that are not where we think they can be,” says Theo Kalikow, Humboldt State’s outgoing interim provost. “There are a lot of other things we need to know that we don't know on our campus. While we can share some of the things that seem to be working for us, there are other campuses that have other pieces of a first-year program that we can learn from.”