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Reimagining the Higher Education Ecosystem Challenge

How might we empower people to design their own learning journeys so they can lead purposeful and economically stable lives?

Technology is rapidly transforming the way we live, learn, and work. New jobs are emerging as others are lost to automation. People are living longer, yet switching jobs more often. These dramatic shifts call for a reimagining of the way we prepare for work and life—specifically, how we learn new skills and adapt to a changing economic landscape.

The changes ahead are likely to hurt most those who can least afford to manage them: low-income and first generation learners already ill-served by our existing postsecondary education system. Our current system stifles economic mobility and widens income and achievement gaps; we must act now to ensure that we have an educational ecosystem flexible and fair enough to help all people live purposeful and economically stable lives. And if we are to design solutions proportionate to this problem, new technologies must be called on to scale approaches that reach the millions of vulnerable people across the country.

The Challenge—Reimagining the Higher Education Ecosystem—seeks bold ideas for how our postsecondary education system could be reimagined to foster equity and encourage learner agency and resilience. We seek specific pilots to move us toward a future in which all learners can achieve economic stability and lead purposeful lives. This Challenge invites participants to articulate a vision and then design pilot projects for a future ecosystem that expands access and draws on a broad postsecondary ecosystem.

Submissions are due on August 8th.

To inspire participants, we asked some key thought leaders in higher education about what innovations they’re most excited about that will impact learning and learners the most as they reimagine the higher ed ecosystem.

“We need more creativity when it comes to seeding the learning ecosystem of the future. We all talk a lot about lifelong learning, but we need to start building the foundation of that future ecosystem. We’ll have to design a competency marketplace, shared taxonomies between educators and employers, portable, lifelong learning accounts, and robust coaching/navigating services to help us move more seamlessly in and out of learning and work. This challenge is a great first step toward collaborating on that shared future.”

– Michelle R. Weise, Chief Innovation Officer, Strada Institute for the Future of Work

“Universities are in an increasingly complex future of transformed workplaces, students who extend their education over their lifetimes, and knowledge that is in a constant state of churn will find success difficult without new partners and partnerships. Institutions simply cannot succeed as walled gardens, but innovation will be required to connect students, employers, and society. As education becomes episodic and renewable, new ways of thinking about determining what students have learned as they traverse lifelong education will be needed.”

– Richard A. DeMillo, Executive Director, Center for 21st Century Universities, Georgia Tech

“Innovations that address the education to employment gap are one of the areas I’m most excited about. I’d like to see competency-based education unleashed, which is one approach to tightening the gap. Anything tackling that part of the marketplace and effectively connecting employers and educators has huge potential.”

– Michael B. Horn, Chief Strategic Officer, Entangled Group

“I’m excited about DOE’s new Reimagining the Higher Education Ecosystem challenge. New technologies and new education/workforce pathways have the potential to dramatically improve postsecondary opportunities for low-income and first generation learners. I’m hoping this challenge yields ambitious, research-based, practical, scalable collaborative applications that ‘dream big’ and really push the boundaries of the possible.”

– Jason Palmer, General Partner, New Markets Venture Partners

“We are in the midst of a paradigm shift in the way we store, secure and share data and value our digital identity. New protocols like the Blockchain have given everyone a new way to ‘think’. If our identity and the data that it consists of can be ‘brought’ to any experience with us, how would that foundational element change the way systems and educational experiences are shaped from now to 2025?”

– Phil Komarny, Vice President of Innovation, Salesforce


See what others are saying about the #edu2030 challenge:

From Our Blog

Reimagining Higher Education in the Changing World

What were you doing in 2005? There was no iPhone or iPad, so you weren’t scrolling through this blog because your feed caught it. Facebook was not open to the public, so you weren’t simultaneously reading this and looking at pictures of your cousin’s college roommate’s kids. Uber was a German word for “over;” and “Don’t let a stranger drive you home” seemed like good advice. Now let’s think 12 years in the future: what will you be doing in 2030?

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