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.

Greetings from San Diego. This week, I offer some first impressions as I reconnect with some of the 5,700 investors, entrepreneurs, educators, foundation leaders, and policy makers here at the ASU+GSV Summit. I also pass along some advice on how college leaders can help first-generation students and highlight some readings of interest.

First impressions from the ASU+GSV Summit.

Considering the context for this year’s ASU+GSV Summit — coming on the heels of two years of record levels of investor cash flowing into the ed-tech and work-tech sectors, and a notable embrace of technology in education and across all facets of society — I had plenty of reasons to be excited I would be connecting back here in person with sources old and new.

I’m not even halfway through the three-day program as I write this. And while I won’t pretend that I can easily capture a full picture of the ideas and ambitions floating through the halls here at the hotel venue, as thousands of money folk and policy advocates return to San Diego in full force for the first time since April 2019, some first impressions stand out from this glorious (and sometimes self-importantly pretentious) frenzy of panels, big-stage talks and “catch-ups over coffee.”

I’m running late for my next meeting myself, so I’ll be cryptic for now, with promises to expound further on these ideas — and many more — in the weeks to come.

1. Get ready to hear a lot more about LERs — that’s the abbreviation for Learner and Employment Records, a method for students and others to track and share the skills they’ve been acquiring at college, through short courses, or on the job. This idea has been brewing for a while (remember when “badges” were the craze of a few years ago?), but now the approach is maturing and gathering steam. One young entrepreneur I met even has a platform that lets students see, FitBit style, how close they are to being qualified for specific high-paying jobs based on the skills they’ve documented in their LER. (P.S. I’m really hoping this continues to be pronounced L-E-R, and not “ler.”)

2. Expect to see more new styles of “anytime education” — including for-profit and nonprofit ventures that promote “learning in the flow of work,” as one investor described it to me. This will include many more “employer pay” models.

3. With the “increasingly depressing” reports of rising mental-health challenges among students, companies and other ventures that provide or facilitate mental-health services are “a very ripe space” for investor capital. I heard that from journalist-turned-investor Tony Wan. In his former capacity as a writer and editor at EdSurge, and now as head of investor content at Reach Capital, Wan remains one of the go-to sources for tracking where investors are placing their bets in the education sector, so I’ll be especially interested to see how his thesis plays out.

4. Advocacy for “alternative” paths to careers besides traditional colleges will only grow stronger but the “alt” may fall from the discourse because it evokes the notion that it’s lesser than. That’s a theme that reigned especially strong at a panel moderated by Julie Lammers, senior vice president for government relations and advocacy at American Student Assistance. Instead of alternative pathways, she said, “let’s talk about ‘a diversity of pathways.’“

How campus leaders can help first-generation students.

Plenty of presidents were the first in their families to go to college. That personal experience can be especially helpful in relating to and advocating for today’s students. A recent Chronicle forum moderated by our Senior Editor Alexander C. Kafka and Freeman. A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, discussed how top leaders can best offer support. The panel of former first-gen-student presidents was part of our yearlong series with the Ascendium Education Group on student success.

Here are two takeaways (you can watch the whole forum here).

Understand students’ realities. One nearly universal fact: bills to pay. “Frankly, a lot more bills than I had in college,” said Ivy R. Taylor, president of Rust College, in Mississippi. Students there asked if they could be paid for campus leadership activities; they were “weighing that versus getting a job at Walmart,” she said.

Emergency funds are important, too — and fund raising for them is essential, said Daisy Cocco De Filippis, president of Hostos Community College, part of the City University of New York, and in the Bronx. She recalled learning that some students couldn’t always make it to campus because they shared one MetroCard with their families.

Provide mentoring. A series of programs at Clemson University helps first-gen and other underrepresented students feel they belong and gives them someone to turn to when they need advice. “They see that somebody like them can do it,” said James P. Clements, president.

“I have five mentees myself,” said Jack Thomas, president of Central State University, in Ohio. He also holds a president’s roundtable with a group of students every two weeks, to hear their concerns. —Maura Mahoney

Check these out.

Here are some education-related items from other outlets that recently caught my eye. Did I miss a good one? Let me know.

  • States looking for smart ways to allocate the$350 billionin pandemic relief from the 2021 American Rescue Plan should fund programs like Bottom Line and CUNY’s ASAP, which relieve the college-completion crisis by providing wraparound support, argue two higher-ed leaders inThe 74. “Only a fraction of a percent of college students are enrolled in programs like these,” writes Sameer Gadkaree, president of the Institute for College Access & Success, and Michele Jolin, cofounder and chief executive of Results for America, “despite the strong evidence supporting their efficacy.”
  • With a new “gainful employment” rule now being developed by the U.S. Department of Education, the policy analysts Jason D. Delisle and Jason Cohen propose that the rule should be based on the price of tuition, not the debt students take on when enrolling in a career-focused program. A tuition-to-earnings ratio, they write in a blog post on the Urban Institute’sUrban Wire, “would clearly communicate to stakeholders that the standard is based on graduates earning enough to justify tuition and related costs.”
  • In Los Angeles, two dozen education systems, local governments, and employer groups have been working to expand educational and economic opportunity across the region under a program called theL.A. Compact. Now, with this new Data Dashboard, the project demonstrates how a regionwide program publicly tracks its progress.
  • Hope College — aptly named for its newest financial strategy — recently announced an approach that does away with the idea of tuition. As EdSurgereports in this summary and podcast, the liberal-arts college in Michigan has this idea: give students a college education, free, “and hope that they will pay it all back in donations in the course of their lifetimes.”
  • With skills-based hiring gaining increasing attention, Bruno V. Manno, a senior adviser to the Walton Family Foundation and former Education Department official, argues that policy makers should be looking more to K-12 schools to prepare students for career opportunities. In this paper, published by the American Enterprise Institute’s Conservative Education Reform Network, he highlights several models to achieve this, including Code Pathand others with higher-ed connections.

Join the conversation today about “The Great Upgrade.”

My colleague Ian Wilhelm explains: “It’s managing the culture, not the technology.” That’s how one CIO described
this time in higher ed to him in an interview. Essentially, she meant a technology overhaul spurred by the pandemic to improve how campuses serve students. But as we know all too well, such large-scale transformations often fail. And they fail because of issues within the campus culture as much as the technology.

So, how do colleges manage this challenge? Join Ian today at 2 p.m. Eastern time as he and a group of experts tackle this question. Sign up here to take part live, or watch later on demand.

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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