Lifelong Learning Models for a Changing Higher Ed Marketplace:

Changing Higher Ed Podcast 200 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Amrit Ahluwalia

Table of Contents

Lifelong Learning Models for a Changing Higher Ed Marketplace | Changing Higher Ed Podcast 200 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Amrit Ahluwalia
Changing Higher Ed Podcast | Drumm McNaughton | The Change Leader

26 March · Episode 200

Lifelong Learning Models for a Changing Higher Ed Marketplace

43 Min · By Dr. Drumm McNaughton

Exploring the transformation of higher education into lifelong learning hubs for workforce development, with innovative models and continuing education's role.


Higher education is undergoing transformational change to redefine its role as a facilitator of lifelong learning and workforce development. In this 200th episode of Changing Higher Ed, host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and guest Amrit Ahluwalia, incoming Executive Director for Continuing Studies at Western University, explore innovative models positioning universities as sustainable hubs for socioeconomic mobility.


The Consumer-Driven Educational Landscape

Over 60% of today’s jobs will be redefined by 2025, driving demand for continuous upskilling and reskilling to meet evolving workforce needs. However, higher education’s traditional model of imparting specific knowledge through multi-year degrees is hugely misaligned with this reality.

Soaring education costs have fueled a consumer mindset shift, with learners demanding a clear return on investment directly aligned with their career goals. The expectation is to see immediate skills application and professional impact from their educational investments, not just long-term outcomes years after completion.


Evolving from Gatekeepers to Guides

Historically, universities positioned themselves as gatekeepers of knowledge. But in today’s era of widely accessible information flooding the internet, social media, educational videos and more, this model is obsolete. The true value proposition of higher education must shift to facilitating lifelong learning journeys and actively cultivating durable skills like critical thinking, communication, teamwork and data analysis.

The goal is to create flexible pathways to education for those who may have previously felt shut out through transformative models like the 60-Year Curriculum concept. Under this approach, institutions serve as consistent value-adding partners supporting each individual’s complete evolving career and personal growth needs over a lifetime.


Continuing Education’s Catalytic Role

Well-resourced continuing education divisions are pivotal to realizing universities’ reinvented purpose. By expanding access to institutional expertise and resources via diverse pathways like micro-credentials, skills bootcamps, professional development programs, and more, continuing ed can position colleges and universities as drivers of community growth, robust talent pipelines, and socioeconomic mobility.

Through market-aligned credentialing and learning opportunities tailored to each learner’s specific objectives, continuing ed removes financial barriers while creating responsive “ladders to prosperity.” This allows universities to play a vital role in upskilling the workforce and breaking multigenerational cycles of poverty.


An “Intentional Learning Outcomes” Mindset

A key enabler of higher education’s evolution is applying an “intentional learning outcomes” philosophy across the lifelong learning portfolio. Rather than defaulting to imparting specific knowledge and technical skills, the focus shifts to purposefully cultivating transferable competencies demanded by employers.

For example, recasting liberal arts and humanities curricula through this competency-based education (CBE) lens produces clearer development of cross-cutting capabilities like critical thinking, communication, teamwork, and data analysis that allow graduates to thrive in any career field or industry.


Three Key Takeaways for Higher Education Leaders

To successfully navigate higher education’s disruptive landscape and reclaim relevance, institutions should adopt three guiding principles:

  1. Facilitate student-centricity by intentionally aligning all offerings to specific workforce competencies and each individual’s goals, ensuring a clear return on their educational investment.

  2. Pivot to a lifelong, agile model supporting complete 60-year learning journeys through diverse credentialing pathways responsive to evolving upskilling needs.

  3. Empower continuing education divisions as innovation engines, strategically expanding institutional resources, expert knowledge, and market-driven programming to diverse audiences.


As Ahluwalia states, “Higher education understands the learning process…If institutions specialize and partner appropriately, learners can access new skills at any time and immediately apply them in the workplace.”

By embracing a lifelong education vision powered by strategic investment in continuing education, universities can redefine their value proposition. No longer gatekeepers, they become indispensable catalysts fostering accessible pathways to socioeconomic impact in the modern era.


About Our Podcast Guest

Amrit Ahluwalia is the incoming Executive Director of Continuing Studies at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada. He joins Western University in March 2024 after over a decade leading The EvoLLLution publication, an online newspaper focused on transformation and change in the higher education space.


About the Host

Dr. Drumm McNaughton is a consultant to higher education institutions in governance, accreditation, strategy and change, and mergers.


Transcript: Changing Higher Ed Podcast 200


[00:00:31] Drumm McNaughton: Thank you, David. Today, we celebrate our 200th episode in over five years of Changing Higher Ed. It’s been a wonderful ride, and I’m pleased to have a special guest for this episode, Amrit Ahluwalia, the incoming Executive Director for Continuing Studies at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada, and former Senior Director of Strategic Insights at Modern Campus and the Editor in Chief of The Evolution, the online newspaper focused on non traditional higher education and transforming the post secondary marketplace.

[00:01:05] As a result of his working with Modern Campus and Evolution, Amrit has a unique and interesting vantage point from which he sees higher education, and has great insights into higher ed and what institutions need to do in the changing marketplace, that is, its triumphs and defeats. He joins us today to talk about what’s going on in higher ed and how we need to change the business model to remain relevant and sustainable.

[00:01:30] Amrit, welcome to the show.

[00:01:32] Amrit Ahluwalia: Hey, well, thank you so much for having me back.

[00:01:35] Drumm McNaughton: Well, I’m excited about this and you have got some really great news. I know you’ve left Evolution.

[00:01:42] Amrit Ahluwalia: Yeah, well, I’m really excited. I’m gonna be joining, Western University in my hometown here in London, Ontario, Canada, as the Executive Director for Continuing Studies. So, we’re going to be really looking at how the continuing education division can start to play a broader role and the university’s impact that it wants to have locally in London, regionally across southwestern Ontario nationally across Canada.

[00:02:04] You know, Western is one of one of Canada’s great historic universities. There’s alumni across Canada and globally doing amazing things. And we want start positioning the university as more of a partner in folks lifelong learning. We want to position the university as a driver for local economic growth, and the Continuing Studies Division is an amazing place to start. So I’m really excited to be joining Western and helping to spearhead this strategic initiative.

[00:02:32] Drumm McNaughton: Well, I can’t think of anybody who’s better qualified to do something like this than you. With your background from Evolution, you have seen so many different things. I’m excited because It sounds to me like you’re going to be doing kind of a combination of what Doug Harrison is doing there at New York University with first gen students and what Michael Crow is doing with lifelong learning.

[00:02:58] So it’s a nice combination.

[00:02:59] Amrit Ahluwalia: well, it’s interesting because there’s a lot of the same philosophies and mentalities that tie those efforts together, right? It’s a very different idea of what role the university plays in its community and society and globally. It’s a very different picture of the role of the institution within the sort of success framework of any given individual.

[00:03:19] And I think at the core of the transition is this idea that the university is sort of responsive to, and proactive around, the needs of its learners, as opposed to putting learners in a position where they’re constantly just hoping that the institution is going to serve their needs or react to their needs. This sort of transition that we’re seeing,in the way that universities are operating, certainly across Canada and the United States, fits into this very different picture of who are the individuals we’re trying to serve, what are some of the mechanisms we need to bring to the forefront in order to serve them, and then how can we start to operate just that little bit differently, to create pathways to education for folks that might not have thought that the university was really designed for them.

[00:04:01] Drumm McNaughton: Yeah, it kind of reminds me, um, Larry large and I, who’s former university president, were working on a op ed piece and we’re looking at education on what it needs to be. Obviously, people’s expectations around education have changed tremendously over the last 20 years, and we basically boiled it down to four main categories, get a life, get a job, get research and get citizenship or something along those lines. And, I think it’s time education got back to the basics because you can’t learn everything in your first undergraduate degree. You need master’s degrees, you need certificates, all of those kinds of things, which I guess is a pretty good segue for what we’re going to talk about

[00:04:50] Amrit Ahluwalia: Absolutely. Well, it’s kind of why I was really excited about this topic, because it really does start to bring a lot of these questions to the forefront about, you know, what role does the institution serve? And for folks who are listening, I’d also recommend checking out Michael Horn’s work on jobs to be done theory and how it relates to higher education. There’s a lot of different people that the post secondary ecosystem is trying to serve, but we have historically tried to serve that diverse population of individuals with the same tools, the same approaches, the same models. And the reality of it is that if we want to be successful as an industry, we need to recognize that folks are looking for different things at different times. And it’s not necessarily the benefit of every institution to try to be everything to everyone all at once.

[00:05:36] But if you can be a value adding partner in an individual’s learning journey, then there’s an opportunity to really make sure the right people are finding you and you’re helping people find the right opportunities for themselves. So just as a, I guess, a little additional tidbit, check out Michael Horne’s work on jobs to be done theory, because it fits really well with what Drumm is just talking about.

[00:05:55] Drumm McNaughton: Thank you for that. Amrit. It also makes me think about how expectations have changed, but more importantly, higher ed hasn’t changed that much. We’re going through a huge period of transformation right now. I think my friend Gordon Gee, who said it, you know, COVID is merely accelerating needed changes by a decade or more. And then Jack Welsh, as soon as change on the outside exceeds rapidness of change on the inside, you’re headed down the death spiral. And that’s what’s happened in higher ed. We’ve not changed to keep up with public perception. We’ve not changed enough to keep up with times. People need education, especially with technology accelerating as fast as it has, you know, Moore’s law, all of that stuff. But I mean, AI, you know, we, before we came on here, we talked about Madeline Pomariega, down At miami Dade College. They embraced AI three years ago rather than everybody else going “no wait we can’t do this”.

[00:07:08] We’ve got to change.

[00:07:10] Amrit Ahluwalia: Yeah, a hundred percent. I think there’s some concerns around the way that the workforce is currently structured because the reality of it is that people do need to start accessing different pathways to getting more responsive and more future appropriate, learning opportunities. I think there’s a reality to the perception that higher education in its sort of core set of offerings might not be keeping pace with the demands of the labor market.I remember having a conversation, shortly after we launched the Evolution in 2011 or 2012, where someone who’s now a vice president for, enrollment management, was telling me, I know exactly where higher education is going to be in 10 years. Okay. How?

[00:07:53] He said, well, higher education is about 10 years behind everything else. So whatever the majority of businesses are doing today, that’s what higher education is going to be doing in 10 years. And if you think about where we were in 2011, 2012 in the corporate space, it really was starting to integrate CRM, starting to find ways to be more reactive to the reality that consumers are looking for more personalized engagement.

[00:08:15] And that’s something that colleges and universities are now really starting to do with a lot of energy. So I think there’s a reality to that, and so, looking at what a lot of businesses are doing now, which is finding ways to use machine learning and AI to introduce personalization, I think that’s really where we’re going to start to see universities accelerating in that direction.

[00:08:33] But the fact of the matter is with how expensive college education, especially in the United States, is becoming for the consumer, for the individual, there’s a higher expectation from those individuals that the learning they’re going to receive will have a clear return on that investment, right?

[00:08:51] When we looked at education as being a public good, when we looked at education as something that was heavily subsidized by government bodies, when we looked at education is something that the community really supported individuals to pursue, then I think there was a little bit more openness on the part of students to take a journey and to sort of let the institution guide that outcome and to sort of have that broad feeling that the institution is going to have my best interests at heart, I’ll land in a place that makes sense, I trust this experience. But as the financial burden has shifted from being something that we as a community support to something that the individuals expected to support themselves, potentially leading themselves into tens of thousands of dollars of debt, at best, that expectation for return on investment becomes much starker, and the expectation for the timing on that return on investment becomes way more immediate as we start to shift gears even further into programming that’s specifically aligned to professional development or skill development for the purposes of career growth. That return on investment, the expectation on the timeline, isn’t even some time after the program ends. The expectation is, if I’m paying for something that’s supposed to develop or support my career growth, I should be able to see the impact of that learning daily as I’m going through the program. My career should be immediately improving.

[00:10:10] Drumm McNaughton: Yeah you bring up a couple of really interesting points, price being one of them. A change in student perception from rather than being students to being more consumer driven behavior but the one i really want to hit on is the differences in skills versus building a career. We’re starting to sort out, it used to be where we would go through and you go through and you get your you know degree and what not, and you would build on that. Now it’s almost two different tracks. You’ve got the AACNU skills you know, critical thinking, teamwork, data analysis, drawing conclusions, et cetera, and then you’ve got your technical knowledge that you need whether it be business whether it be IT et cetera.

[00:11:01] It’s almost like there’s two separate tracks there. I want to find a third one, but I, you know, I’m struggling with that right now.

[00:11:07] Amrit Ahluwalia: Well, I think it’s interesting, right? Cause we used to think of people as T shaped professionals. The ideal professional is a T shaped professional. And that individual has, if you think about the letter T, a horizontal set of durable skills or soft skills or professional skills, call them what you will, transferable skills that help them to base their career and then a deep, vertical line of technical capability that takes those durable skills and allows them to dive into a particular area. So we had T shaped professionals. Then we had pie shaped professionals. And if you think about the pie symbol, there’s a one horizontal line and then two vertical skill sets that, you know, gets them technical knowledge or technical competency in a few

[00:11:47] Drumm McNaughton: I w I was thinking about a chocolate cream pie. Sorry.

[00:11:50] Amrit Ahluwalia: , but then you take it a step further and you start to think of a trident shaped professional, a comb shaped professional. The fact is that if people are working 25 to 35 careers over the course of their lifetime, the era of the T shaped professional is over because there’s no, there are very few industries that will allow someone to build a single technical competency framework and have that be the driver of their entire career.

[00:12:14] So, one thing I just want to add on this is when we talk about the idea of durable skills or transferable skills that come out of a liberal arts education, and I know this is a topic we’re going to come back to, the reality is that when we think about the structure of a lot of liberal arts programs, they’re not necessarily defined or built around the idea of very intentional learning outcomes designed for transferable skill development. Instead, what we’re doing in a lot of cases is actually training people to be academics in the fields in which they’re studying. So if someone’s taking an English degree, they should be building this incredible broad set of skills that the critical thinking, the ability to communicate, the ability to work in a team that’s going to support any career direction they want to go.

[00:13:00] But instead, what we tend to do is train people to be professors of English. So what we should be doing is building that horizontal durable skill set. What we’re in fact doing is building a vertical technical skill set. There’s a great piece in The Evolution, by David Scable, who’s now the president of Excelsior College, and he wrote about how competency based education could save the liberal arts. It comes back to this idea of students having a clearer sense of what they’re actually paying for when they pursue a degree. Because the reality is that the majority of students want career outcomes from their learning experience. And what David talks about is if we start to apply competency based frameworks to liberal arts education, we can be more meaningful about the development of those transferable skills and those durable skills that will allow the student to take that educational process in any direction they want to go. If they want to stay in the academy, then they can start to build the vertical skill set of being a technical academic, and that’s great. But if they want to take that education and go into any other field, then they’re actually building in a very meaningful way, that horizontal durable skill set that will allow them to thrive in any industry.

[00:14:09] Drumm McNaughton: What you’re talking about is a traditional liberal arts education.

[00:14:13] Amrit Ahluwalia: Its purest sense. Yes.

[00:14:15] Drumm McNaughton: In its purest sense, and if we go back to the T, that horizontal is those durable skills, the critical thinking, that working in teams, data analysis etc. And AACNU’s not paying me to say this so that’s ok. As much as business is changing, as much as society is changing, technology is changing, that vertical T is gonna be multiple T’s and it’s gonna be varying links. That to me is what higher ed should be thinking about at the undergraduate level. Graduate studies are totally different. I mean that old adage a bachelor’s degree teaches you how to think A master’s degree teaches you specific skills the phd you’re bringing new knowledge into being, you know, to me that still works.

[00:15:18] Amrit Ahluwalia: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think this is where we start to think about the institutional role starting to evolve because there’s a lot of universities that still think of their roles as being gatekeepers of knowledge as opposed to facilitators of learner outcomes.

[00:15:34] Drumm McNaughton: That’s so critical,

[00:15:36] Amrit Ahluwalia: , It’s a key, key difference in, in the way that we position ourselves as an industry.

[00:15:40] Cause again, the reality of it is that knowledge is easily accessible. Knowledge is very easily accessible.

[00:15:47] You know, I, I can take a course on Coursera right now that pulls the majority of its resources from MBA level programming at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

[00:15:58] Because, from their perspective, the value that they’re creating in those programs is not access to the information. I can access the information on Google, I can access it on YouTube, I can pull a book from my local library, you know, edgy, punk learning is still very possible.

[00:16:14] So what’s the role of the institution then? It’s to take that knowledge, it’s to contextualize it, it’s to create linkages, it’s to create opportunities for growth that go beyond just accessing the information itself. The information isn’t the product. The product is what you’re able to do with that information, and some people will be able take those, those core resources and and build on them the way that they need to, and some people will really benefit from that more robust experience that the institution is able to offer. But that shift in mentality is also what takes us to this place where we can look at education as something that goes beyond access to an undergraduate, a graduate or postgraduate learning.

[00:16:54] And instead it starts to break out the world of, of accessible pathways as being something far more diverse as being a place where maybe a learner can come in for a three week workshop because the reality of it is that they don’t necessarily need just the access to the information, what they need support in is how to contextualize it, and that’s where the institution can start to create more value.

[00:17:15] Drumm McNaughton: And along those same lines higher ed understands the learning process. So you can get the knowledge anywhere. They understand the learning process, they understand or should understand how to contextualize this information, put it into the process. If higher ed would stop focusing as much on the undergraduates and start looking at it from, and this is a Michael Crow why try and sell one thing when you can sell a lifetime of courses, learnings, etc You’re not gonna be all things to all people but if you specialize in certain things, and this comes back to the branding and positioning, if you specialize in certain things, you know carnegie mellon is a great example of this or you know Michigan Ross School of Business. You’ve got certain certificates, students can come back there at any given time. Let’s see, let’s use the term learners because they’re not students, they’re learners at this point. They can learn new skills there and go back to their workplace and apply them.

[00:18:24] Amrit Ahluwalia: Well, this is the core of a movement called the “60 Year Curriculum”, which is a different way of thinking about the institutional framework that goes beyond education as maybe a two or a four year experience at the start of someone’s career, and instead thinks about the institution as a consistent partner in an individual’s lifelong learning journey, and, you know, this is very selfishly why I’m I’m so excited to be more actively within the world of continuing education leadership. Because when you think about the opportunity for an institution to be a value adding provider over the course of a lifetime, it really lives in how the continuing education division can create consistent and relevant access to learning opportunities for individuals that happen over the course of a lifetime that are responsive to where they are in their career, where they want to go. Going back to the evolution for a moment, um, few years ago, we published an article with, at the time, the dean of extension at Harvard University, a fellow named Hunt Lambert, and he was talking about the sixty year curriculum and how the role of the institution and individual’s learning experience is changing. And I’m just going to read a quick quote from that article. ” The winners will have an information based, learner relationship management business, not a teaching and learning based business.”

[00:19:40] So his philosophy is basically that if we think about the broad spectrum of the role that an institution plays in an individual’s lifelong learning experience, accessing information from the institution cannot be the only responsibility of the institution. Instead, the role of the institution is to build lasting and value adding relationships with the learner, to understand what the learner is trying to achieve, and to facilitate their development of the skills, the resources, the tools that they need to be able to achieve those goals.

[00:20:14] If it’s programming offered by the institution itself, fantastic. If it’s access to career advising, career support, we can do that too. If it’s suggestions on where they could go to access the skills they want to access, or if it’s even just a vision into the kinds of competencies they need to be able to build in order to access the outcomes that they’re trying to achieve.

[00:20:34] That’s the role of the institution. It’s learner relationship management, not necessarily purely teaching and learning. Teaching and learning has to be a component of that learner relationship.

[00:20:45] Drumm McNaughton: I coined a term, oh, probably about five or six years ago, “talent supply chain”. That is what higher ed is. They are the manufacturing for the talent supply chain. You take raw materials, you, you give them your processes, et cetera, you kick them out and then they need to be ready. Whether it be the industry sending them back or they going back on their own for specific learning I think you’ve, you’ve hit, hit it on the head with, we’ve got to think about student learning outcomes and what they really are and how do we get there? That’s the raison of a college and university.

[00:21:28] Amrit Ahluwalia: I mean, ultimately, folks don’t join a university for the cash. It’s not It’s a business It’s a industry that you get into because you’re truly passionate about the value of an education the impact and education can have on someone’s life. Realistically, that’s why any of us do this.

[00:21:46] Drumm McNaughton: We certainly hope that’s the case.

[00:21:48] Amrit Ahluwalia: That’s it, right? I mean, so the reality of it is that, when folks get up every morning and come into the office, they’re trying to find ways to meaningfully impact an individual’s life, they’re trying to figure out how do we create ladders to socioeconomic prosperity? How do we break cycles of poverty? How do we create opportunities for development and growth? How do we help businesses more relevantly and more adequately, serve the needs of their employees? And how do we position them? How do we keep jobs from being off shored? How do we bring more industries to our community?

[00:22:22] Like, all these questions revolve around the same core principle, which is, how do we help our neighbor? And what’s the role of the institution in helping our neighbor? And all of those pieces come back to the central question, which is, well, how do we be student centric? How do we make sure that students aren’t getting mired in processes and bureaucracies so that they can focus their time on learning.

[00:22:43] How do we make sure that that learning actually addresses the things that they’re trying to achieve? And how do we make sure at a macro level that the institution’s creating an environment locally, regionally, nationally, that invites more investment into the community? All of those things come back that same principle.

[00:23:01] Drumm McNaughton: What i see is happening in higher ed is something that happened in corporate america back in the eighties or nineties. You remember Michael Hammer, Reengineering The Corporation etc there was a lot of slicing and dicing. You’re good at this, we’re good at supply chaining, et cetera, et cetera. I see the same thing happening in higher ed, but it’s a very different business model for them because they’re not used to outsourcing student advising or things along lines.

[00:23:34] What are you? Mr. Ms. University, what are you really good at? You can hire people to do these things, or you can outsource them and make sure that you’ve got that thing. This is a new skill set of being able to develop these strategic relationships.

[00:23:55] Amrit Ahluwalia: And every institution is going to have a different answer to that question. You know, we think about it in terms of peripheral competencies and core competencies. So, what are we the institution here to do? How do we make sure that given the folks that we have on the team we can focus our time and energy to executing on those things.

[00:24:11] And then how do we bring in the right partners to help us build the network of the ecosystem around us that’s going to allow that success to happen at scale? It’s, as you’ve said, this is a very common approach in the business world. There are very few businesses that want to build their own CRMs. There are very few businesses that want to build their own cloud hosting infrastructure, but in the post secondary space, it’s incredibly common to reverse engineer very basic technologies. It’s very common to, to try to do everything internally with a single sort of vertical integration, but the reality is that it’s incredibly inefficient. It’s generally not as high quality and it takes focus off of the stuff that the institution should really be doing.

[00:24:51] Now the flip side of this Is when we start to see things like an over indexing on OPMs, an over indexing on program partners, because that core question again comes back to, well what are we the institution here to do? Are we white labeling programming or are we offering programming that we truly believe in? And if our focus is on offering programming that we truly believe in, okay well A, how do we find partners that are going to help us deliver that programming to the people that we’re trying to serve, or B, how do we make sure that we’re focusing our energies on the development and maintenance of high quality programming and not on other stuff that distracts from it. So it’s it’s interesting, right? Cause all these things kind of come back to that question that you’ve just highlighted, which is, well, what are we the institution here to do primarily? And then what are all the things that need to happen in order for us to do what we need to do at a high level of competency and skill?

[00:25:42] Drumm McNaughton: Well, I think we’ve solved all the problems at the

[00:25:45] Ha, ha, ha,

[00:25:46] point.

[00:25:47] Amrit Ahluwalia: We’ve at least asked the right questions.

[00:25:50] Drumm McNaughton: We’re asking the right questions, which I think is critical for all institutions to be doing right now, is you’ve got to be asking yourselves these really hard questions. But there’s other impacts there, there are other places and things that impact the higher education institution. Your board governance, it’s becoming more political than it ever has. Accreditation, it’s so much aligned right now with financial aid, but are we doing the things that we need to be doing?

[00:26:22] Let’s, let’s start with accreditation because that’s a, I know that’s something we’re both

[00:26:27] Amrit Ahluwalia: It’s interesting because there are some leaders who will talk about the accreditors as being really forward thinking, really energized, really oriented to supporting innovation. And you’ll talk to other leaders who see the accrediting bodies as a, a damper on any innovation possibilities.

[00:26:45] The reality is that financial aid is dependent on accreditation standards, which is one of the key reasons why we see so many non credit programming, not being financial aid eligible, despite the fact that it is of extremely high quality. I would say that the ROI expectations on a non credit professional development program are much higher level than a four year undergraduate degree program, because the reality is, as I mentioned earlier, the expectations for ROI on that non credit learning experience are immediate.

[00:27:19] So if the program is of a low quality, not only will the students see it as a waste of their money and time, but they’re very unlikely to even continue or persist with the offering. So the rigor that’s required to be successful in noncredit space is at a very different level. But because that programming doesn’t necessarily fit the time bound restrictions of a standard accreditation process becomes very difficult to credit micro credentials and alternative credentials and non degree credentials through the same pathway. If we create an environment where we have, you know, short term PEL as a jumping off point in the States where we have the opportunity to think about non credit programming through that lens of being at a high quality, then the role of the accreditor is really to facilitate the development of high quality, non degree credentials that help people achieve their goals. Because as a community, we should be paying for that, right? We, we the community, we the economy benefit from people who have the skills and the knowledge and the ability to make more money, right? We want as many people as possible making as much money as they can for the health of the economy. And as a community we should be comfortable investing in that because it’s what keeps crime rates low, it’s what keeps dependence on the social safety net low, it improves health care in general, it improves the ability to put money back into the economy by buying stuff, it brings more …

[00:28:45] Drumm McNaughton: Wait wait a minute. You’re going democratic. You’re going democratic on me.\

[00:28:50] Amrit Ahluwalia: But that’s that’s what we’re talking about education is a public good, right? That’s, what it means.

[00:28:56] Drumm McNaughton: It is, and we’ve forgotten that type of thing for the most part. One of the things, as you’re talking about this, this short term non credit stuff, a good friend of mine just joined HLC, the Higher Learning Commission. And they are looking at a way of accrediting credentials.

[00:29:19] Amrit Ahluwalia: Fantastic.

[00:29:20] Drumm McNaughton: I think that is so good. That is so smart on their part. Kudos to the leadership there.

[00:29:26] Amrit Ahluwalia: Absolutely.

[00:29:27] Drumm McNaughton: For doing this, if they can get this in and and defining what is high quality, does it need to be credit, non credit, whatever. I think this takes us one step closer to that utopian vision that you and I were talking about a little bit ago of the “60 year education” and the purpose of higher ed versus just what it is become.

[00:29:55] Amrit Ahluwalia: Yeah, I mean, this is where when you have people trying to do creative things, either you can understand the outcomes that they’re trying to achieve with those creative things and find ways to help them facilitate those outcomes, or you can look at it as a threat to the status quo and try to restrict that opportunity. I don’t think there’s really anyone who’s not trying to achieve the same outcome, which is ultimately a more engaging and a more outcome oriented, a more beneficial environment for the learner. I think at its core, everyone’s aligned on that need, but because people have such different philosophies on the best way to get there, you can create some, had a leader who once called it a creative friction in uh, in achieving those outcomes because the reality is you have very different philosophies bumping into each other around what quality looks like. It’s interesting, just thinking about the world of, of sort of the the main campus and continuing education. I’ve heard it talked about as as being different kinds of philosophies where you have sort of a philosophy of empathy guiding continuing education, which is really around, you know, how can we create as inviting, as creative, as dynamic an environment as the learner needs to achieve their goals. And then you have the registrar’s office as a philosophy of justice, which is really how do we make sure the ecosystem works? How do we make sure that the rules are applied in a way that makes sense for everyone, so that the quality of the outcome is never in question?

[00:31:22] Now, those two things aren’t necessarily opposing, but it does present a very different picture of the role of say, the registrar and a continuing education leader, and how they’re trying to get people to the outcomes that they’re laying out. Where either you’re helping people navigate the barriers or you’re making people aware of the barriers for them to navigate.

[00:31:41] So that’s the question, right? Are we focused on navigating the barriers, or are we focused on the barriers themselves? And I think that same mentality can be applied to this question of accreditors as it relates to innovative programming. Are we focused on the barriers that we’ve put in place to say quality requires navigating these barriers, or are we focused on the navigating part?

[00:32:02] In order for us to get to the outcomes we want, we have to navigate these barriers. It’s the same question. It’s the same process, but are you focused on the path or are you focused on the barriers? That’s where I think that creative friction starts to come.

[00:32:17] Drumm McNaughton: Swapping horses, because we’re starting to get down toward the end of our time, how do we apply all this information that we’ve talked about, so that higher ed institutions can remain relevant and sustainable?

[00:32:30] Amrit Ahluwalia: Yeah. I mean, I think the first step is really starting to think about education as being more than a four year or two year process. That, that starting philosophy of saying our role of the institution is to support a lifelong learning journey. And we’re going to do that by bringing all the resources, all the focus of the institution to bear on a lifelong learning journey. That’s the starting point.

[00:32:52] Now, again, for every institution, that’s going to look very different. But when I think about how we can start to create opportunities for all the expertise, all the brilliance of the institution to be as accessible as possible, it starts to step towards this idea of not thinking about our product as something that we’re gatekeeping. But instead of thinking about our product as something that we want to create as expansive access to as possible. If you remember the Dark Side of the Moon album cover you know where we have a beam light hitting a prism and and then expanding into a rainbow, a million colors. That’s how I think about the future of the post secondary ecosystem where you have sort of the strong beam of light being the degree program, being the research output, being the channel of expertise that the institution builds itself upon.

[00:33:41] I think of the prism as being that mentality around student centricity. And then the arc of light that comes out of it being the array of access points that we can create by just thinking about the learner. In my instance, that’s how I want to position the Continuing Education Division at Western.

[00:33:58] So I want the Continuing Education Unit, the the Western Continuing Studies, to be that prism through which the institution can reach its myriad possible audiences. That same model isn’t going to work for everyone. But that’s certainly, I think, the philosophy that we’re trying to bring to our work, which is, we have this phenomenal institution with these phenomenal research and learning outcomes that we prepare alumni , with that we create the brand with, that we have the history of the university with, how do we make sure that that expertise is as accessible and as democratized as it can possibly be so that as many people as possible can gain the benefit of a relationship with our institution?

[00:34:39] Drumm McNaughton: I’m going to toss one other piece into this. You can’t do it in a vacuum. You’ve got to stay up with what’s going on. Most programs are put together because you’ve got one or two faculty with a particular expertise, et

[00:34:55] Amrit Ahluwalia: Market research is your friend, folks.

[00:34:58] Drumm McNaughton: Market research is absolutely your friend and creating relationships with industry, with all of those things. What is it that they need and what is it they project they’re going to need that the future environmental scanning, when we do strategic planning, that’s what this is all about is what’s going to happen in the future. And how do we plot a course to get there?

[00:35:21] Amrit Ahluwalia: I couldn’t more..

[00:35:23] Drumm McNaughton: This has been a fabulous, I, I always enjoy talking with you. This is so fun for me, Amrit, and I’m really appreciate your coming back on. I mean, you were you were my guest for my 150th episodeand here we are for 200, we’re getting closer to solving all of education and the world’s

[00:35:42] not

[00:35:43] Amrit Ahluwalia: Every 50 episodes, we’re going to take another chunk out of it.

[00:35:46] Drumm McNaughton: This, this is good. This is good. Can you name one institution? I’m sure you can. One institution who you think is doing this right, is changed their focus to be able to focus on the student and preparing them for the future. That 60 year education.

[00:36:04] Amrit Ahluwalia: I mean, you mentioned it off the top. I think Arizona State’s done an unbelievable job of repositioning themselves around three key pillars designed specifically for these outcomes. So, at ASU, they have a very specific pillar designed for undergraduate teaching and learning, a very specific pillar designed for research, and a very specific pillar designed for lifelong education.

[00:36:26] Then they have sort of a horizontal structure of shared services that facilitate the delivery of learning within each of those pillars. But the idea is that we don’t want to continue to distract people from doing the things they’re here to do. There are some faculty that are primarily focused on research, and they should be given the space and the resources and the capacity to make that research a reality.

[00:36:50] From that research, there comes a second phase, which is, okay, well, how do we make that research relevant to local industry? How do we make that research accessible to folks that need it? And taking the extension mentality to bear. So, we we can create a pillar designed specifically to do that. We have an entire pillar focused on undergraduate teaching and learning because quality of the undergraduate learning experience requires distinct and specific focus and it’s the same thing for lifelong education, that capacity to create myriad options for folks to access the institution to get the value that they need has to happen in a very conscious and focused way. So I think that the work that they’re doing to really bring that six year curriculum to the forefront and to think about the role of the institution through those three distinct pillars, and then to facilitate and resource each pillar appropriately to execute on that outcome, is something be paying close attention to.

[00:37:40] We not be looking them as a threat. We should be looking at them as a model.

[00:37:44] Drumm McNaughton: I’ll give you another one. Unity Environmental university.

[00:37:48] Amrit Ahluwalia: That Peter is doing out there is really something else.

[00:37:52] Drumm McNaughton: Yeah. I would say those two at this point are the poster children for transforming higher ed.

[00:37:58] Amrit Ahluwalia: I think that’s fair.

[00:37:59] Drumm McNaughton: Three takeaways for university presidents and boards.

[00:38:02] Amrit Ahluwalia: Facilitate student centricity is takeaway number one. I think the more student centric we can make the institution, the more intentional we can be about student centricity the better. Two, pivot towards a lifelong education ecosystem. For every institution that’s going to look a little bit different but if the starting proposition is “we are here as facilitators of a lifelong learning journey as opposed to gatekeepers of short term knowledge accrual” the closer we’re going to get to that vision. And three is resource for continuing education divisions and very selfishly, but education play a key role in, in helping the institution really position itself as that driver of community, of regional, of national growth. It positions us as as drivers of professional development.

[00:38:48] So the more capacity you provide your continuing education division to bring the resources of the institution to bear in a way that serves different audiences, the better.

[00:38:57] Drumm McNaughton: And one of the beauties of you doing this through continuing education is you don’t have the high regulatory environment that you would through accreditation.

[00:39:07] Amrit Ahluwalia: Now again, you know, coming back to that core question. And it’s funny because I do believe in the importance of a regulatory environment, but the dynamics of the rigor that exists in the continuing education space is not any less than what’s expected from a highly regulated space. It’s just that we serve a different metric of what quality looks like. And in some cases, a far higher bar.

[00:39:31] Drumm McNaughton: And that is a very true statement in most, I wouldn’t say most, in some universities and others, the quality is not as there as it should be, and that’s unfortunate.

[00:39:42] Amrit Ahluwalia: I think that’s a fair point.

[00:39:43] Drumm McNaughton: So you’re going to Western.

[00:39:45] That’s what next. I’m excited for you. And I look forward to possibly being able to help you up there at some

[00:39:52] Amrit Ahluwalia: Yeah, Drumm, hey, it’s always a pleasure to get to talk to you. And let’s stay in touch because I think there’s a lot of change on the horizon for, for all of us, and the more visibility we can create on on the stuff that’s that’s evolving, the better,

[00:40:03] Drumm McNaughton: Absolutely. Amrit, thank you so much. It’s been great having you on the show again. I, I look forward to, to staying in touch and let’s do it more than once a year.

[00:40:13] Amrit Ahluwalia: Absolutely. All the best Drumm.

[00:40:15] Drumm McNaughton: You too. Take care. Thanks for listening today. And a special thank you to Amrit Alawalia, the incoming Executive Director for Continuing Studies at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada, and former Senior Director of Strategic Insights at Modern Campus and editor in chief of The Evolution, and for his joining me, this conversation about how the higher ed business model must change to change the perception that higher ed is no longer relevant in today’s society.

[00:40:48] This is our 200th episode, and I’d like to give a special shout out to the many guests we’ve had on the five years of Changing Higher Ed. I truly have been blessed to have made the acquaintance of so many great people in higher education. And I want to say thank you to all of those who join me to share your thoughts, your insights, and most importantly, yourself on the program.

[00:41:11] I also want to say thank you to my team who makes this all possible. Tamara Taylor of Show Up Strong, who takes care of the website, writing, and SEO. And David White of, my sound engineer, who makes me sound as smart as my guests. Without you, I wouldn’t be able to bring Changing Higher Ed to all we touch. Thank you.

[00:41:31] Most importantly, I want to say thank you to my listeners. We’re up to over 2, 500 daily downloads of the podcast, an amazing number. And it’s all because of your loyalty and interest that we’ve kept going. Thank you very much. Tune in next week when we welcome Tom Netting back to the show. Tom and I will be talking about the latest goings on in Washington, including the most recent negotiated rulemaking with the department, congressional legislation, and the latest on the new Title IX regulations, all of which will affect our industry and our institutions.

[00:42:08] Thanks for listening. See you next week.



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