Earlier this month, the Blackboard team sponsored the 3rd Annual Professional Colleges and Universities Summit (PCUS) along with our host, Harrison College.  We first began these summits to form a network for our clients across the professional college and university sector.  From our perspective, it is critical that stakeholders at proprietary institutions come together to share best practices and communicate about the collective challenges they face, especially within the current regulatory environment and fast-paced changes in learning technology.

Through meetings like this, I firmly believe that we can work together to highlight the great things schools in our sector are doing – and that’s exactly what happened at this year’s PCUS gathering.

Of the many things I learned during the summit, here are some of my top takeaways from PCUS 2012:

  • Connections between students matter, even in online learning environments. One school found that being connected to just one other person radically increased their students’ success and retention rates. The more that students participate in course-related social networks, for example, the more likely they are to graduate – and this is especially true for those who enter with multiple risk factors.
  • Multiple stakeholders should be involved when adapting traditional classes to an online environment. The process should begin with the instructor, IT experts, and academic administrators coming together to  ‘reverse’ plan from course outcomes—allowing them to see what hardware and software are necessary to make the online class a reality.  From there, they must work together to ensure that the online class is engaging and retains the goals of the original course.
  • We must leverage active learning for academic and professional outcomes. Studies show that participatory, active learning is far more effective than lecture-style learning, meaning that instructors must find ways to increase student involvement in order to achieve desired outcomes. One school is going so far as to eliminate face-to-face lectures to increase active learning!
  • Professional colleges and universities succeed in educating underprepared and at-risk students. But one of the key challenges facing for-profit institutions is how to quantify their successes in educating non-traditional students. Especially as demand for higher education increases and more underprepared students enter these institutions, professional colleges and universities must come together to share data and analytics strategies so they can be accurately compared to traditional colleges.

We hope everyone who attended PCUS took away these and other ideas, strategies, and tactics to implement at their institutions so they can best help their students achieve their educational and professional goals.  If you didn’t have the chance to attend PCUS 2012, we hope to see you at next year’s summit!  Until then, look forward to blog posts over the next few months that will highlight some of the valuable knowledge we gained from this year’s presentations on topics ranging from academic assessment to engaging online learning.

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