Reloading the Team
It is very hard to believe that we are nearly a quarter of the way into this century already! It seems like only yesterday that we were listening to Prince’s 1999 and celebrating the new century (technically a year early, but the change from 00 to 01 seemed much less momentous). Ironically, it feels like COVID has been with us forever, and the last two years have been a very long and hard slog. As the CollegeSource family of employees continues to mostly work from home we are finding new ways to build community through team-oriented service projects, “drive-throughs” at the office where we touch base, and utilizing the best features of virtual landscapes like Teams and Zoom.
There is a common idea in sports that some teams are in a rebuilding year (not so good, but hoping to get better) while others are simply reloading (already great and working to stay that way). The best teams constantly reload and rarely rebuild. That is the kind of team we want to be: a team that moves from strength to strength.
In a world that seems to want to keep us siloed, we want to continue to be a collection of friendly faces who feel a personal connection to each other and our clients. We want you to see us for what we are: a company of smart and energetic people, experienced in higher education, who focus on helping you do the most important work you have, equipping students for what is sure to be an interesting future filled with lots of challenges.
uAchieve 5.0 & the New Planner
This year we are scheduled to launch our new uAchieve Planner. It will retain the best of the old Planner (for uAchieve 4.5.4), such as remaining authoritatively tied to your complex degree requirements and validating against the uAchieve Degree Audit. At the same time, the new Planner aims at being far more flexible for students and will require less care and upkeep from staff. Instead of asking you to create templates based on fixed notions of higher education (e.g. that every student is on a four-year schedule), the new Planner takes into account where a student “is” (credits earned and courses taken), their goals and commitment level in terms of how many hours they want to take per semester and when they intend to graduate, and the various “rules” that apply to taking courses that you have encoded in your audit (required courses, options, pre- and co-requisites, repeat policies, etc.). It then uses this information to dynamically build a plan for the student rather than trying to lock them into a preconceived, inflexible pattern.
Sound complicated? It is. We are hard at work solving some of the trickier edge cases with beta clients in these first few months of 2020. We know the result will be worth the effort, though. You all have enough to do already without building roadmaps and updating them annually. (You can read more about our Planner beta testing here.) Later this spring we look forward to sharing more information and demos with the whole community.
uAchieve 5.0 will also build on the heavily road-tested 4.5.4, our most functional, accessible, and highest performing uAchieve Degree Audit engine ever, and will encompass other new features such as an updated user interface, and an evaluation loop/transfer equivalency builder that bridges information between uAchieve and TES.
“Transfer” is a simple word, but in higher education it has so much baggage. When we think of transfer we think of someone moving from one institution and/or place to another. The word implies a kind of one-way, one-time motion, and therefore it is both dated and inaccurate. Mobility speaks more to the way students experience education. The lines between online and brick-and mortar experiences, institutions, and types of credit experiences are becoming less and less meaningful in a world where one type morphs into another at the drop of a hat. We seek to build tools that maintain student options and the viability of credits in this mobile educational landscape.
As we head into the spring semester, my own sons are being updated daily as to whether they will be going to a classroom or working online. In some cases it becomes a confusing mixture. My oldest son has three back-to-back classes, two of which are virtual while the third will take place in a physical lab space. As a result, he will need to take his laptop to the campus library and attend the first two virtually in order to have time to get “between” his online class and his physical one. (We might assume the “walking time” from virtual to physical is zero, but that clearly is not the case.) I am certain you all are either directly experiencing or know of similar hybrid situations whereby partaking in higher education is not clearly one thing or the other, but instead a strange blend of both/everything. Such situations include dual-enrollment where students are active participants in two institutions’ curricula and educational processes at the same time, students who are “guesting” at other institutions to accelerate their education, students who shift back to the community college level to achieve closure on an associate’s degree before, or instead of finishing a baccalaureate, and many other so-called “edge cases” that aren’t really uncommon anymore.
My old boss, Mike McCauley, used to say, “when courses equate, programs matriculate!” It was a catchy phrase and one that I still think is largely true. While we all want to achieve the highest goal of applicability when it comes to transferred coursework, an atomistic approach that draws fundamental links at all levels is far more flexible and tenacious than pathways that idealize one form of degree profession. There is a good space for both, please do not misunderstand me, but pathways are inherently more fragile than course-to-course equivalencies and energy needs to be devoted to both in the same way that degree requirements and semester-by-semester plans must walk hand-in-hand.
Making tools that remain focused on core processes, work well from any location, and recognize the fluidity of higher education experiences is a kind of Gordian Knot, except that we do not have the liberty of simply cutting it in half as Alexander did. We have to acknowledge its complexity and embrace it, while trying to keep the overall user experience as simple as possible. Some of our competitors are out there selling the dream to schools that “audits are outdated” and “all you need is a planner.” This rhetoric is luring many institutions into a false vision of simplicity. Unless these same institutions are willing to reduce degree requirements into something far less intricate and functional than they are today, software with a simple check-sheet mentality is not going to cut the mustard … or the knot … to stick with my earlier analogy. (Also, who cuts mustard? It’s already kind of gooey. I never understood that one, but if you are like me and are forced to now run to Google for answers, let me save you the search.)
In any case, we feel like we understand these problems in a way that far larger companies often do not. While we sometimes fall short of having the newest looking interface or lack the huge budget to market ourselves directly to executives who are driven or pressured to change institutional processes for change’s sake (sometimes without a real understanding of the underlying problems), we feel like we are good at playing the long game. The long game for us means staying focused on solving real problems that affect real people – the staff and students of higher education institutions. We have been serving higher education for fifty years (since 1971) and we will serve it for another fifty, as long as we continue to both reinvent ourselves to face the changing world and remain concerned about the most critical pain points in higher education.