I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle covering innovation in and around higher ed.

We’re doing some innovating of our own here at The Edge. Each week I will share my latest thinking on the people and ideas reshaping higher ed, alternating between my own reporting and my picks for thought-provoking and useful stories and resources from other organizations. I’ll also mix in some quick takes, noteworthy quotes, and stats that catch my eye, as well as occasional contributions from my colleagues.

This week, I kick it off with some of your thoughts on what goal-setting for the future should look like.

    The “educational opportunity” goals colleges should be setting.

    Two weeks ago in this newsletter, I offered some answers to the question: What became of the goals that colleges set for themselves back in 2014, as part of the Obama administration’s big push to promote college access and success for underrepresented students? The results, not surprisingly, were mixed: signs of real progress amid frustrating missed opportunities.

    Then I asked all of you a follow-up: What goals that institutions are setting today will still feel important and relevant seven or 10 years from now? The societal challenges of today look far different — and, let’s be honest, far more troubling — than they did seven years ago. What does that mean for the commitments the sector makes?

    Today I want to share one of your responses, a message I received from Jason Elliott, vice president for marketing and enrollment at City University of Seattle. Elliott noted that he’s seen plenty of much-ballyhooed trends flourish and fade — MOOCs, boot camps, microcredentials, and so on. Meanwhile, online and adult education have proliferated, changing the nature of competition across the sector. “Especially now,” he wrote, “nontraditional students realize that they can *always* go elsewhere.”

    So what does that mean for institutional goal-setting? Elliott hopes to see a shift away from trendsetting products and toward the longer-game work of student support. A “relationship-rich model,” he wrote, drawing on the title of amanifesto by Peter Felten and Leo M. Lambert, would help institutions focus on engaging and retaining their students, rather than fighting off competitors.

    “Seven years from now,” he wrote, “I hope that our goals will be built around community, connection, engagement, and giving students *reasons* to stay.”

    That’s a sound thought, and one that seems likely to resonate years from now. And it’s a thought that would also have resonated seven years ago, as the Obama administration sought to rally college leaders around access and success. But I still wonder: Are there viable goals to be set in 2022 that wouldn’t have been on the map back then? I’m a little surprised that I didn’t hear more goals that seem uniquely tailored to the challenges we’ll face in the years to come. But maybe that’s a function of everyone still feeling overwhelmed by what they’ve had to manage through during the past two years. In any case, thanks for the responses, and keep ’em coming.

    Signs of progress on ‘stranded credits.’

    As newsletter readers know, I’ve been closely following the problem of “stranded credits,” a hidden obstacle to students seeking to re-enroll in college. If those students owe debts to their original institutions, their transcripts get withheld until they can settle those debts. It’s a glitch in the system that disproportionately hurts underrepresented and adult students.

    So it made sense when the City University of New York, which serves huge swaths of those students, announced in August that it would suspend its practice of withholding transcripts from students with outstanding debt. The university made that move as part of a set of steps, supported by federal emergency-relief grants, to retain and bring back students who had been especially challenged by the Covid pandemic.

    Now CUNY has made that temporary policy permanent. And it’s not alone: About a week before its announcement, the State University of New York stated that it too would start releasing the transcripts of students with unpaid debts. The institutions did so with a strong vote of support from New York’s governor, Kathy Hochul. In a statement announcing the CUNY decision, Hochul described the withholding of transcripts as “a barbaric practice that we must end across the board.”

    It’s encouraging to see momentum building around fixing the stranded-credit problem. CUNY and SUNY are two of the biggest university systems in the country; their policy changes will affect a lot of students in the here and now, while influencing other institutions down the line.

    Meanwhile, it’s still worth watching the experiment being undertaken by eight Ohio institutions that I described back in December. Their compact, developed under the auspices of the nonprofit consultancy Ithaka S+R, includes an important proviso — that the institutions will periodically reimburse one another for a portion of the waived debt based on who re-enrolls where. Withholding transcripts is an ineffective way of recouping students’ unpaid debt, but that lost money is a real problem for many colleges and universities. I’ll be tracking the Ithaka model to see whether it can soften that blow.

    Find us at SXSW EDU.

    Going to SXSW EDU next week? The Chronicle will be there, and we hope to see you. We’ll be hosting two events in Austin on Tuesday, March 8.

    • The Chronicles venerable Shark Tank enters its seventh year. Our annual pitch-a-thon pays homage to the TV show, but with a twist. Our panel of experts will weigh in on transformative ideas from new companies, nonprofits, and big dreamers for improving the college experience. I’ll be missing this year’s event, but Brock Read, The Chronicle’s editor, will pinch-hit. He’ll be joined by Catharine (Cappy) Bond Hill, managing director of Ithaka S+R, and Paul Freedman, president of the Learning Marketplace at Guild Education, to scrutinize four projects with big potential.
    • More than half of college students are the first in their families to go to college. Yet colleges often fail to support, retain, and graduate these students. What can institutions and policy makers do right now to set first-gen students up for success? Sarah Brown, a Chronicle news editor, and Anthony Abraham Jack, assistant professor of education at Harvard University, will lead a session that explores the answers.

    Stop by for those sessions or meet us at our happy hour Tuesday evening in the back of the room where those sessions will be held.

    Got a tip you’d like to share or a question you’d like me to answer? Let me know, at goldie@chronicle.com. If you have been forwarded this newsletter and would like to see past issues, find them here. To receive your own copy, free, register here. If you want to follow me on Twitter, @GoldieStandard is my handle.

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