4 Innovations in Higher Education Being Driven by Educational Leaders

4 innovations in higher education
4 innovations in higher education

The rapid changes in the cultural, political, and environmental landscape in America and beyond require educational leaders who can respond quickly to meet the increasingly complex needs of their students. Today’s students and schools need innovative education professionals who reflect upon social justice issues when planning school curricula to ensure that the needs of students from historically marginalized communities are being met. 

Many strong educational leaders are doing just that at colleges and universities across the country. From addressing the financial concerns of students in socially conscious ways to designing programs with online students in mind, higher education faculty and administrators are leveraging their years of educational experience by harnessing the resources of the present for the good of the future. 

Consider the remarkable work of four such innovative education leaders who are making a positive difference in the lives of students and legacies of colleges and universities. 


1. Hitting the Reset Button: How One Higher Education Leader Reimagined the University Business Model

Dr. Joe Sallustio, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Claremont Lincoln University in Claremont, California, knew that the first thing he needed to do in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic was reduce the cost of tuition. He set out to restructure the university’s business model in order to accommodate higher education students who were skeptical of the education system at large, concerned about accruing debt, and had a wide range of choices when it came to how they would spend their time after high school. 

“A fierce leader has to make bold choices,” Sallustio said during the 2021 Fierce Leaders in Higher Ed virtual event. For Sallustio, that involved instituting a 21 percent reduction in all course fees. In addition, the university raised money to offer fellowships to students who work in public administration, so that they could be a part of shaping the American response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We needed to prepare these leaders who will ultimately set policy to help us all recover from the pandemic,” Sallustio said.

The administration at Claremont Lincoln also led their faculty and employees in making strategic choices about hybrid education that prioritized safety, spending time well, and remaining budget conscious. 

All of these initiatives helped Claremont Lincoln to build on its past legacy, make the most of its resources in the present, and look towards the future for the sake of its students.


2. Birds of a Feather: Belonging to a Community Makes a Positive Difference in the Lives of College and University Students

Before the pandemic, studies showed that students who had pre-existing friends on campus tended to earn higher grades and have higher rates of retention than those who did not. After the pandemic resulted in a few years of disconnection, infrequent contact with others, and uncertainty about how to socialize safely, many higher education students are having a hard time making and sustaining on-campus social connections. 

That’s why California University of Pennsylvania (Cal U) and Loyola University in New Orleans (Loyola) partnered with Nearpeer to offer their peer engagement app to students.

Speaking to the reasoning behind their decision to try Nearpeer, Brenda Fredette, Dean of Eberly College of Science and Technology at Cal U, said, “What is often overlooked in retention strategies is the need for students to remain connected and feel part of the campus community before they take their first course.” 

Elizabeth Rainey, Executive Director of Pan-American Life Student Success Center at Loyola, echoed her sentiments, saying, “We know from 40-plus years of retention research that folks need to feel they belong to remain engaged and enrolled. COVID-19 interrupted the traditional ways of building connections through big campus events and student organizations, but technology allows for a less overwhelming and safer way to connect.”

So, did the app work? Both schools show a great deal of evidence that it did. Ninety-one percent of users made at least one peer connection. Relative to nonusers, 17 percent more students said they enjoy getting to know their university peers, and 12 percent more said they felt connected to their peers. Forty-one percent made at least one “real-life” friend through Nearpeer. 

“Historically, students connected on campus through events and student organizations, but that is no longer the most effective way for them to meet,” wrote Dr. Nicole Barbaro, who wrote a report on Nearpeer at Loyola and Cal U. “This research shows that by leveraging technology, students can find more peers with common interests and hobbies to expand their social network on campus.” 

a college student


3. How Can I Help You: Harnessing Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Natural Language Processing for Colleges and Universities

It used to be that any time a prospective or current student — even an alumnus who needed a transcript for a graduate program or had a question about an outstanding bill — had a question, they would have to reach out to a staff member at their college or university individually. They would stop by the staff member’s office, leave a voicemail, or send an email, and then be forced to wait for a response until business hours and the staffer’s to-do list allowed it. 

Things started to change a bit before the pandemic when colleges and universities began implementing chatbot technology. At California State University, Northridge (CSUN), the original chatbot was designed to communicate with first-year students, largely as a retention effort. But then the pandemic hit, and remote learning along with it. 

CSUN, along with many other higher education institutions, opened the bot up to all students. The bot distributed pandemic-related information and conducted polls about returning in person or remaining remote. Elizabeth Adams, Associate Vice President of Graduate Studies, and her colleagues were pleasantly surprised by the results — a return rate of over 30 percent. 

“It really allowed us to be in touch with tens of thousands of students in a way I don’t think we would have been able to without the bot,” Adams told EdTech Magazine. “It’s been a real lifesaver in that sense.”

CSUN students sent over 42,000 messages to the bot in 2020. They received responses to their questions with a typical time lapse of just 10-15 seconds. When students express stress or other mental health concerns, the bot is configured to notify the university counselor or the campus police, depending on the severity of the keywords the bot observed.

While in-person learning has largely returned, colleges and universities will need to continue to offer excellent digital communication options in order to connect with all students. 


4. Creating Pathways: Starting the Post-Secondary Education Discussion Long Before It’s Time to Apply 

Marymount University Online Doctorate of Education student Travis Zimmerman knows that part of innovative education means discussing familiar topics in new ways. One of those topics is the age-old question: “Is college worth it?” 

This question, Zimmerman says, is one “that parents and students frequently ask, so creating pathways for students to be successful in creating post-secondary plans and having the resilience to attain their goals is important so they don’t lose focus and drop out pre-completion, landing them with debt but no degree.”

Whether he is working at the high school level, at a think tank or policy foundation, or as an author, Zimmerman intends to make his mark on higher education through a range of contributions that empower students to make wise decisions about higher education according to their aspirations, goals, and circumstances. One of those contributions, Zimmerman hopes, will be a book that describes various interventions in education, highlighting best practices in social-emotional learning and instruction. 

Rather than promoting a standardized, one-size-fits-all message that encourages all students to experience higher education in the same, traditional way, Zimmerman and fellow innovative education leaders know that early conversations, critical thinking, and inventive solutions are integral to empowering the student population to make sustainable post-secondary decisions.


Lead Innovative Education Efforts with an Online Doctorate of Education from Marymount University 

Do you find yourself thinking about the landscape of higher education today and want to be involved in bettering the future? Are you motivated by developing strategies and processes to ensure success? 

If the answer is yes, then the Online Ed.D. from Marymount University could be the ideal next step for growing in your career as an innovative leader in education, nonprofits, business, government, etc. Designed for working professionals, the Ed.D. program focuses on leadership and organization innovation, making it a perfect fit for those who want to create positive change in their work environments.

As a fully online and accredited program, the Ed.D. offers an accelerated cohort model and a high level of personalization. Courses that cover diverse, dynamic topics include:

  • Theory, practice, and reflection on leading an organization
  • The intersection of ethical leadership and social justice
  • Leading organizational change in transformative ways

All of the Ed.D. curriculum is built to empower leaders to make meaningful change. Earning your Ed.D. through Marymount University Online can help you inspire transformation in your career, your workplace, and your community.