Call to transform universities in the US from Arizona State president


It’s time for America’s public colleges and universities to modernise to meet the changing demands of the technologically driven and globalised workforce of the future. That was the message at the National Governors Associationannual meeting in Washington, DC, on February 25, 2018, at the “Pathways to Prosperity: The Future of Innovation in Higher Education” plenary session.

Michael M. Crow, president of Arizona State University, noted that “we are facing a fundamental economic and social change moment” in which no previous generation has experienced “with the rate of technological advancement accelerating infinitely”.

Crow said that the current model for higher education is “fixed, rigid, and largely incapable of understanding how to modernise”. Terms like ‘college’ and ‘postsecondary’ are outdated terms and “fixed boxes of the past…we need new labels,” he claimed.

Crow encouraged state governors to think of a new design for higher education, at a meeting attended by more than 40 states’ representatives. Details of the successful ASU-Starbucks partnership were shared with delegates.

“You all as governors are arbiters of the future,” said Crow. “You have the unique responsibility for advancing and designing and those elements of our democracy that are most critically dependent upon education and overseeing the educational processes in each of the states.

“So the question to you is…can we build a system in higher education that can be adaptive?”

Crow advocates for higher education developing universal learners who come in and out of higher education at different points in their lifetime.

ASU is considered to be a model university for innovation in public higher education, specifically with its integration of technology with learning and its positioning itself as a leader of an ‘enterprise model’ of higher education to meet the needs of the community, its students, and reflecting the diversity of the population in the student body.

“We set out to change the fundamental design of the university,” said Crow. “A public university must be at the speed of the economy; a public university must be at the speed of change.”

Student outcomes show that becoming more innovative has been successful. For instance, since 2003, ASU has increased the number of graduates from 8,000 to 24,000 and seen a 95% improvement of the four-year graduation rate.

Additionally, their partnership with Starbucks to deliver a high-quality higher education to the coffee firm’s employees, through ASU online degree programs, is cited as one such example of the university’s commitment to innovation.

The Starbucks College Achievement Plan began in June 2014 and is a first-of-its-kind partnership with ASU. It creates an opportunity for all US Starbucks employees to earn a bachelor’s degree, for free, through an ASU online degree program.

Any employee who works 20 hours a week or more is eligible for the program. 1,000 Starbucks employees have graduated from ASU and 7,000 are currently enrolled.

A recent graduate of ASU and Starbucks employee told her story at the event and revealed how traditional higher education can leave many promising students behind.

Susana Mojica, born in California to Mexican immigrant parents, first enrolled in college nearly two decades ago. After her first year, she realised she did not have the financial resources to continue her studies and feared a large debt burden because she would have to take out student loans, so she dropped out.

Later, she began working part-time at a Starbucks to save for her own children’s college education.

Mojica remembers the day that ASU and Starbucks launched the Starbucks College Achievement Plan program. She signed up that very day.

“I knew that this was my opportunity to go back to school,” Mojica recalls.

“It was my determination and hard work that got me to where I am at, but it wasn’t just my doing. It was Starbucks and Arizona State that gave me this lucky break and created this opportunity for me to thrive,” she said.

Mojica graduated from ASU in May 2017 and is currently enrolled in a master’s degree program in public health at George Mason University.

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