NYU’s Alternate Pathways to Top-Tier Degrees – Part 2:

Changing Higher Ed podcast 198 with host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and guest Dr. Douglas Harrison

Table of Contents

Changing Higher Ed Podcast 198- NYU’s Alternate Pathways to a Top-Tier Degree - Part 2 with host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and guest Dr. Douglas Harrison
Changing Higher Ed Podcast | Drumm McNaughton | The Change Leader

12 March · Episode 198

NYU’s Alternate Pathways to Top-Tier Degrees – Part 2

34 Min · By Dr. Drumm McNaughton

Hear NYU's innovative approach to alternative pathways, showcasing strategies for educators to enhance accessibility and success in higher education.


NYU’s School for Professional Studies Applied Undergraduate Studies program is flipping the script on many traditional educational models and mindsets, embracing a strategic shift to offer alternative pathways to top-tier degrees. This strategic evolution reflects a profound commitment to access and flexibility, directly addressing the needs of an expanded demographic of students.

Dr. Harrison illuminates the practical implementations and thought processes behind such forward-thinking initiatives, aiming to demonstrate the successful delivery of education to a larger, non-traditional population.

In Part 2 of this two-part podcast, Drs. McNaughton and Harrison continue the conversation where they left off in Part 1, discussing New York University’s Applied Undergraduate Studies program at its School for Professional Studies’ four key components of the delivery modality: 1) Transfer credit friendly/expanded. 2) The delivery modality. 3) Offering an associate degree. 4) Prior learning assessment.


Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Modalities

In an innovative leap, New York University’s School for Professional Studies has adopted a distinctive approach to online education through the integration of synchronous and asynchronous learning modalities. This method positions them uniquely among prestigious institutions, highlighting their commitment to broadening educational access. By offering both real-time interactions and the flexibility to learn at one’s own pace, NYU’s School for Professional Studies caters to a variety of learning styles and personal circumstances.

The blend of synchronous and asynchronous formats ensures that every student, regardless of their schedule or geographic location, can benefit from a high-quality education. This adaptability is foundational for creating an inclusive learning environment that accommodates the needs of a diverse student body.

Moreover, NYU’s emphasis on comprehensive support services, such as professional advising and career services, alongside the strategic use of learning analytics, underscores its commitment to student success. These services are tailored to provide targeted assistance and guidance, enriching the learning experience and supporting students in achieving their academic and professional objectives.

By melding flexible learning options with robust support networks, NYU’s School for Professional Studies model exemplifies a progressive approach to online education. This strategy facilitates access and flexibility for learners and aligns support services with the individual goals and challenges of its students, ensuring a nurturing and effective educational environment.


Prior Learning Assessment and Additional Credits

Their approach to education recognizes the diverse backgrounds and rich experiences students bring, setting a precedent with its innovative prior learning assessment. This approach is particularly significant for students who have made multiple attempts at college, veterans with extensive service, or professionals with significant industry experience. NYU stands out by crediting a wide array of non-traditional learning avenues, moving beyond the conventional transfer credit system that relies heavily on formal post-secondary transcripts.

A prime example of this innovative approach is seen in the cybersecurity field, where industry-recognized certifications play a critical role in career progression. NYU acknowledges the value of these certifications by aligning its curriculum to industry standards, offering direct course credit for certifications like A Plus and SEC Plus. This alignment means that a working professional in cybersecurity can bypass certain courses, automatically receiving three credits for each recognized certification.

The assessment extends to military experience, which can be meticulously documented, translating years of structured learning into academic credits. For instance, a sergeant major leaving the military after 20 years could be awarded up to 36 credits toward an applied technology degree without the need for a transcript or portfolio assessment. This automatic credit award is based on a detailed evaluation of military training documents, streamlining the transition from military to academic life.

The model incorporates credits for emerging industry certifications and boot camp experiences coming out of Silicon Valley, covering areas like human resources SHRM, data analytics, and UI/UX design. Programs and certifications from renowned companies like Google are evaluated and mapped into the curriculum, enabling students to convert their professional achievements into academic credits.

For unique cases, such as a military pilot with extensive flying experience but no formal college degree, NYU offers customized pathways. These may include building a portfolio to demonstrate the comprehensive skill set required in their professional role. NYU supports students in documenting their experiences, offering mentored guidance for portfolio development at no extra cost, and evaluating the completed portfolio for a nominal fee.

NYU’s dedication to recognizing the full spectrum of prior learning through comprehensive assessment and credit awards exemplifies its commitment to accessibility and efficiency in higher education. By valuing the diverse experiences of its students, NYU not only accelerates their path to degree completion but also significantly reduces the financial burden of their education, demonstrating a progressive approach to inclusive learning.


Student Support Services and Data Analytics for Successful Outcomes

At NYU, the transformation of student support and success is propelled by an innovative use of data analytics. Traditionally, post-secondary institutions have used data retrospectively, analyzing outcomes to reactively adjust curriculum or support services. NYU, however, harnesses learning analytics proactively, employing predictive risk engines to assess hundreds of thousands of student profiles. This forward-looking approach enables the identification of at-risk students early on, allowing for timely developmental interventions that are personalized and growth-oriented.

The foundation of NYU’s student support strategy is understanding the student journey from initial interest to graduation and beyond. This comprehensive view informs the deployment of targeted support services at every stage, ensuring a seamless transition and consistent engagement. From the moment a potential student expresses interest through an online form, the relationship begins, involving marketing, enrollment teams, and, eventually, professional advising teams. These teams work in concert to guide students from application through matriculation and enrollment, addressing any potential barriers that may deter their progression.

Financial aid and career services play critical roles upstream, helping students navigate the economic aspects of their education and align their academic pursuits with career objectives. This coordinated effort extends to the classroom, where faculty members serve as primary agents of educational transformation, supported by an ecosystem of services designed to meet a wide range of student needs.

This ecosystem approach to student support personifies a holistic strategy. It ensures that students are not only academically prepared but also supported in overcoming any barriers that might arise due to skill gaps or economic challenges. By integrating data analytics with a comprehensive array of support services, NYU fosters a nurturing environment that anticipates students’ needs, promotes their success, and prepares them for a vibrant future.


Public-Private Partnerships for Workforce Alignment and Opportunities

The university collaborates closely with a variety of partners, including the New York City Mayor’s Office, to align educational offerings with the evolving demands of the workforce. This collaboration is part of a broader commitment to contribute to workforce development, which not only opens up economic opportunities for a more diverse population but also has transformative social and economic effects on individuals, their families, and communities at large.

Key partnerships include those with the New York City public schools, creating apprenticeship degrees that offer students direct pathways into higher education and, subsequently, into the workforce. These efforts are supported by the city’s own investments in youth workforce development, showcasing a model where education and career development are not seen as mutually exclusive but as complementary elements of a student’s journey.

Furthermore, the institution engages with industry leaders and community-based organizations, such as the New York City CEO Jobs Council, 110, and the Robin Hood Foundation. These collaborations are essential in bridging the gap between education and employment, ensuring that the curriculum is not only academically rigorous but also relevant to the current market needs. Through these strategic partnerships, the university plays a pivotal role in fostering a diverse workforce and expanding economic opportunities, demonstrating a commitment to social and economic transformation.

Building and maintaining these partnerships require a dedicated strategy and team, underscoring the importance of a concerted effort in higher education to develop the capacity for effective collaboration across the education, industry, and community sectors. This holistic approach ensures the creation of valuable pathways that benefit students, the workforce, and society as a whole.


Pricing and Accessibility Strategies to Broaden Higher Ed Pathways

The institution approaches the challenge of making higher education more accessible through innovative pricing models and financial aid options, particularly for students facing economic constraints. At the associate degree level, the institution offers a strategic pathway to making education more affordable. Students can complete up to 62 credits at a significantly reduced price point, allowing for an economical route to obtaining an undergraduate degree. This pricing strategy is designed to remove economic barriers, enabling Pell Grant or tuition assistance-eligible students to complete their associate’s degree at virtually no cost. This initiative not only provides immediate workforce readiness but also sets a foundation for further academic pursuits within the institution, making half of a bachelor’s degree financially attainable.

The completion of a bachelor’s degree is set at the standard rate, reflecting the institution’s confidence in the value and long-term return on investment of its degrees. The institution underscores the transformative economic and professional impact of its degrees, evidenced by a high percentage of graduates securing careers with family-sustaining wages. This approach to pricing acknowledges the initial investment required from students but also emphasizes the anticipated substantial returns in both economic terms and personal development.

In addition to these pricing strategies, the institution is committed to supporting students through substantial gift funds aimed at need-based aid. While not offering a direct tuition discount, these funds significantly alleviate the financial burdens of degree completion for students facing economic challenges. Furthermore, the institution has made a significant commitment to affordability by pledging to cover the cost of attendance for families earning $100,000 or less, as declared on their FAFSA. This commitment reflects a profound dedication to ensuring that economic constraints do not hinder access to education, promising an affordable path to degree completion and underscoring the institution’s role in expanding access to higher education.


How Leadership’s Learning Mindset Impacts Student Success

Leadership plays a pivotal role in cultivating an environment where innovation and continuous improvement thrive within educational institutions. The experience at the university demonstrates that while unanimity of vision among leadership and boards isn’t mandatory, the effectiveness and coherence of strategy significantly benefit from it. Leadership’s commitment to providing the structure and freedom to explore diverse and innovative educational approaches is crucial. This commitment supports the institution’s enduring values while also embracing new pathways to access and success.

Historically rooted in responding to societal needs through education, the university has continuously evolved, guided by leaders who are willing to experiment and innovate. This ethos of innovation is evident in the school’s foundational history and its current strategies under leadership that champions new ideas and methods. Leadership’s openness to trying new approaches, coupled with a rigorous evaluation process, ensures that innovations are not only exciting but also effective and aligned with the institution’s goals.

The concept of learning from failure is integral to this innovative spirit. Adopting a mindset that embraces experimentation, acknowledges the possibility of failure, and values rapid adaptation is not traditionally associated with higher education’s conservative approach to change. However, this mindset is essential for fostering innovation. A structured evaluation plan, clear goals, and defined metrics for success and failure are vital components of this approach. These elements allow for thoughtful reflection and adjustment based on outcomes, ensuring that efforts are data-driven and outcomes-focused.

Leadership’s ability to articulate a shared goal, especially in collaborative innovations, and to align stakeholders around specific, measurable outcomes is fundamental to success. This strategic approach prevents the dissipation of energy and focus, enabling the institution to achieve impactful results. The emphasis on clear KPIs, outcomes, and metrics underscores a systematic approach to innovation, ensuring that every initiative is purposeful and measured against the institution’s overarching goals.

In sum, leadership’s learning mindset significantly impacts student success by fostering a culture that values innovation, embraces learning from failures, and commits to continuous improvement. This culture ensures that educational strategies remain relevant, responsive, and capable of meeting the evolving needs of students and society.


Three Key Takeaways for University Presidents and Boards


  1. Define and Focus on Core Strengths: University leaders must identify and concentrate on what their institution excels at while acknowledging areas they do not aim to dominate. This strategic focus is critical amidst the increasing segmentation and disruption within higher education and the broader economy. Understanding and investing in specific values and areas of strength will help institutions maintain a clear mission and direction amid external pressures.

  2. Encourage Context-Specific Innovation and Learn from Failure: Innovation should be nurtured in a manner that aligns with the institution’s defined strengths and mission. However, the approach to innovation will vary across different departments and units. Importantly, there should be an emphasis not just on the successes but also on the learnings from failed initiatives. This approach fosters a culture of resilience and continuous improvement, crucial for adapting to future transformations.

  3. Cultivate a Culture of Humanity and Shared Civility: In times of significant stress on the higher education sector, it’s vital to promote a work environment marked by professionalism, integrity, and collaboration. University leaders should model these behaviors, rewarding them within the organization and holding individuals accountable when necessary. This commitment to a positive culture and mutual respect will support the institution’s community through challenging times and help maintain a focus on shared goals and values.


About Our Podcast Guest

Douglas Harrison leads the Division of Applied Undergraduate Studies at NYU’s School of Professional Studies. Prior to NYU, Harrison founded the School of Cybersecurity and Information Technology at the University of Maryland Global Campus. He has published and presented widely on access and inclusion in online learning, assessment security, and academic integrity. He is a past director on the board of the International Center for Academic Integrity and currently serves on Turnitin’s Customer Advisory Board for AI in higher education and for the Sounding Spirit Collaborative at Emory University’s Center for Digital Scholarship. His scholarship has been awarded the John Kluge Residential Fellowship at the Library of Congress and the NEA’s Award for Excellence in the Academy.

Social Link: Doug Harrison on LinkedIn → 


About the Host

Dr. Drumm McNaughton, host of Changing Higher Ed podcast, is a consultant to higher education institutions in governance, accreditation, strategy and change, and mergers.


Transcript: Changing Higher Ed podcast 198 with host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and guest Dr. Douglas Harrison
NYU’s Alternate Pathways to A Top-Tier Degree – Part 2


[00:58:01] Drumm McNaughton: We talked a little bit about delivery modality and that’s very different as well, because frankly, I think you’re one of the few schools considered in the Ivy League area who offers this type of online modality.

[00:58:17] Doug Harrison: We want to really own and make it clear that this is, right along with our portfolio squarely and NYU, it’s an NYU model, and it’s a legitimate way for us to offer additional access. We have both synchronous and asynchronous. And it’s really important, especially with these learners, that need the flexibility of online, but also often need additional student support services around it. So, the asynchronous course is the most highly flexible and accessible. But then what is the professional advising team that’s wrapped around, how do you make sure that the career services and the career connections are infused into all of that? How do you have the learning analytics and the student progress data that can help you do predictive risk analysis on student success? So that you can help intervene with a student before they have a problem that might wind them up in probation or have to do so. All of those things have to be wrapped around your consideration of modality investment.

[00:59:11] The other thing I would just look at is the four things we talked about, if it’s okay for me to talk about prior learning assessment, because that’s really critical for this.

[00:59:19] Drumm McNaughton: That was where I was going, but let’s not forget, I want to cycle back to these predictive analytics that you’re using, because I think that’s really important, but please, prior learning assessment.

[00:59:30] Doug Harrison: No, that’s another evangelistic topic for me. So, when post-secondary institutions have typically leveraged data, whether it’s learning analytics, or if it’s other kinds of data about successful or unsuccessful academic progress. It’s almost usually backward looking, right?

[00:59:47] So it’s descriptive, and it’s, it can only help you react in a certain kind of way, right? So if we wait until the end of term to see what’s your DFW rate, that can tell you where you might need to look to revise your curriculum or look at instructional quality, but that the student has already had the unsuccessful outcome, and so you’re much more on the reactive defense at that point than if you can combine the learning analytics and what you know about the students background that can help you understand and match it against.

So if you’ve got a predictive risk engine, that’s going to give you the ability to look at hundreds of thousands of student profiles, if you’re a large university and make some data informed analysis and see what patterns are so that then if you plug that in and say a student who has this profile and is performing in this type of directions, taking this many credits, and is in this degree, we can predict with a fair amount of certainty that they might, because of some of the factors we see in their data profile, we might want to prioritize an advisor reaching out and seeing how it’s going with them.

Let’s talk about your progress. How’s it going? Have you met with a tutor in your math course this semester? So, we can have a developmentally oriented, growth mindset intervention driven by data in the background, but really enables a much more comprehensive and holistic approach to student success.

[01:01:00] Drumm McNaughton: Well, it sounds to me like you’re using data driven decision making, but you’re using it in a predictive way to proactively reach out to students to make sure that they do finish versus waiting till they get in trouble and saying, okay, what do you need for help?

[01:01:17] Doug Harrison: Absolutely, and for us, that’s a really, it’s a mind shift, for me, at least, and this is the way I like to talk to the teams I work with, it’s a value shift, right?

Again, it’s another script flipping experience where instead of saying to the student, which we often do in higher education, here’s a syllabus in your course. Day one. Here’s the expectations. Here’s the deadlines for the assignment. That’s what success means. We point up to the ladder of success and then we don’t put any rungs between where they’re standing and the top of that ladder with success. We make them figure it out all on their own and navigate the hidden curriculum that isn’t stated, but that is essential to being able to be a self-started and metacognitively engaged and successful student.

And so what we’re saying is, we want to meet the student where they are and help them succeed. And to do that, we’re going to give them as many opportunities to understand, practice, and know what it is that then we’ll assess them on. And that means also not waiting until they have some sort of negative experience and respond to them. We’re going to try to get out in front of that with them and be a partner in making sure that they have as many opportunities to stay on track as possible.

[01:02:21] Drumm McNaughton: So, something pops into my mind along these lines. What about grit? What about the student just digging in and getting it done?

[01:02:30] Doug Harrison: We believe in that. I believe in that. I think that’s one of those enduring skills, and there’s a lot of great research out there, right?

Carol Dweck is probably the most prominent researcher, on resilience. That is important, and we definitely want to create structures, experiences, and classrooms that empower students to navigate on their own and learn the, both intellectual and psychological and psychosocial responses that are important to be active and independent thinkers in life and work.

[01:03:01] At the same time, especially in the populations of students who are coming to college unconventionally. They often also come from, backgrounds, experiences, and groups of the population that have been subject to intergenerational, multigenerational, historical exclusions, socially, economically, educationally.

[01:03:21] And so, they bring all the grit in the world. In fact, in my experience, the military learner, the low-income kid from the Bronx, the single mother who’s raising three kids and has elder care responsibility, I’ll put those students grit up against any other higher education student every day and I would put money in most of the time, they’re going to come out the grittiest.

[01:03:40] Drumm McNaughton: Mm hmm.

[01:03:41] Doug Harrison: Grit, however, cannot fill gaps that have been imposed upon people because of historical injustices and inequities. And so, if you’ve experienced inequities of a racial or an economic imbalance in the K-12 system, and that’s led to skills gaps for you, we know that there are gaps in numeracy and some forms of communication, for students who experience a lot of educational injustice around race and class.

[01:04:06] And so if you say to that student, you just have to buckle down and figure out how to do this quadratic equation, if they don’t have the skills, no amount of grit or resilience is going to do that. So, it has to be a combination of saying, when you say, meet you where you are, meeting you where you are says, we’re going to tell you what your responsibilities and obligations are, what your opportunities will be for transformation and successful completion. And we want to help understand what are the places where we can, fill in where some of those historical injustices have created gaps that are no fault of the student at all.

[01:04:37] Drumm McNaughton: Thank you. That’s, that really explains it very well. The other piece with that is you’re helping to teach students that helps is there, all I have to do is ask for it.

[01:04:47] Doug Harrison: Yes. And sometimes in the case of predictive analytics, we don’t even want to wait for them to ask, if we have a reason to think we can help them. Right? And again, one of the reasons that’s so important when you’re working with populations of students who have maybe multiple unsuccessful attempts at college, psychological research here or educational psychology has been very clear that that has an accrued negative impact, and it generates stereotype threat.

[01:05:10] And so because they’ve had negative reinforcements that they’re not successful academic citizens, there can be a lot of reluctance to put their hand up and ask for help because they feel like that’s going to reinforce the existing narrative that they’re not college material. And so we’re really trying to intervene in that kind negative feedback loop that often happens around, the degree completion pathway for learners.

[01:05:31] Drumm McNaughton: Makes so much sense. Let’s move on to the prior learning assessment. I think this is also one of those critical things that you guys do very differently than many other schools.

[01:05:43] Doug Harrison: Well, we’re trying to, right? And if you know, it’s a journey. But really, what I’ve really asked and invited our teams to think about, across the student experience, is to think about how much learning and ability the student who’s multiple unsuccessful attempts at college might bring. The military learner who’s had, potentially, you know, decades in different roles as a service member, to think about the students who come from different backgrounds and all the cultural and social knowledge that brings with them. We have a lot of international students in my division, right? So how can we set up structures and capabilities to maximally recognize, in a formal way as an awarding credit for, as many of the forms of prior learning that our students bring with us. Of course, transfer credit is there. Historically, higher education has said, we’ll accept transfer credit if you can show us from a transcript, from another credit and post-secondary institution. Lots of institutions have articulation agreements with community colleges. We do that. those are some very traditional ways that higher education has thought about it. But we’re also trying to open up our thinking about that and say, okay, let’s look at other kinds of non-college based learning that lots of professionals engage in, and bring with them when they come to us seeking to a complete degree.

[01:06:58] So if you think about an industry like cyber. Cyber security is built around industries recognized certifications. There are very specific skills associated with those. And if you’re going to ladder up in a cyber security career, you will move through many, many certifications across your career.

[01:07:13] If you’re a working adult in cyber, you probably already have A Plus and SEC Plus, some of these really “starting out” Cyber security certifications. And so what we did in Maryland and a version of what we’re trying to recreate here at NYU, is to say, if you’ve taken that certification, passed that test, we’ve aligned our curriculum to ladder up with the ways that industry has acknowledged that skills get built in that profession, and we will automatically award you those three credits to the A Plus course. You don’t have to take it again. You’ve already completed that learning. You’ve already have a prior learning experience. We work similarly with military transcripts. So if you are a sergeant major and you leave the military after 20 years, you’ve had 20 years of very structured learning and a range of skill domains associated with that military structure.

[01:07:56] And so we can evaluate that learning. It’s very well documented. The military is excellent at documenting the learning and the skills associated with it. And we can say to that sergeant major, if you come out, successfully, as a sergeant major, we can tell you that you get, I’m making this up, 36 credits toward an applied technology degree. You don’t have to submit a transcript. You don’t have to do a portfolio assessment. We’ve done that mapping in the back end and loaded that into our SIS and we can automatically award it because you’ve successfully already demonstrated those skills are there.

Same things goes with other industry certifications like SHRM, emergent industry certifications coming out of Silicon Valley. Google has certificates around data and UI/ UX and web design. We can map that into our curriculum so that all you have to do is show us you successfully have that certification we can award that credit. Same with boot camps that have documented learning outcomes. All of those are opportunities to look at how forms of non-college learning that are very prevalent in the space of degree completion and professional learning, how can we maximally recognize that to really accelerate time to degree and lower cost?

[01:09:02] Drumm McNaughton: That’s interesting. I’ve got a, you know, kind of off the wall question. I flew airplanes in the Navy and, you know, I graduated Annapolis, got my bachelor’s degree, et cetera. But the army, at least what I recall, trains helicopter pilots, and they don’t necessarily have to have a college degree to go through that training. What kind of credits would you give someone who was a pilot for 15 years or something like that and wants to come back to your school?

[01:09:35] Doug Harrison: Well, I think it depends. And, you know, we’d have to see how the learning was documented, right? So, if it was structured professional development experiences that the military often does that include documented, essentially syllabi or, other kinds of training documentation, and we can evaluate that and see, it depends also on what kind of post-secondary program pathway that person would be interested in.

[01:09:59] If it’s in a non-technical field, that would be different than if it were in a technical field. Right? So how could we maximally figure that out? The other way for that learner, though, another pathway might be a portfolio, to build a portfolio that shows all the different kinds of things you have to know and be able to do and understand, and in a skills-based way to be, a military helicopter pilot, document that, submit it to us. We’ll give you mentored support to build that portfolio.

We won’t charge you to build the portfolio, we’ll give you some mentored support to do it. And for a relatively low fee, we will evaluate the result of that portfolio and be able to figure out based on the skills profile that your experience and background present, how can we maximally load that into the degree that you’re interested in?

[01:10:43] Drumm McNaughton: Thank you. That’s helpful it shows a broader picture than I think we talked about before. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the support services that you at NYU offer to students who are going through the program. Because I think, when talking about the analytics and being able to be proactive on support, I think the support services are critical for you accomplishing what you want to do.

[01:11:07] Doug Harrison: Yes, that’s exactly right. So how we really try to think about it is, what is the student learner journey, from the point that they express any kind of interest in being part of the NYU community in the division, all the way through all their coursework to graduation to be an alumnus? Maybe even coming back and doing additional learning and reskilling. And so, let’s understand as much as we can about that journey and then figure out who are the people in teams and what are the tools at each point in that journey that we need to be leveraging to make sure that we’re as responsive as possible to them. And so that starts all the way up. And then what I was talking about before, when a. perspective learner, maybe comes to our website and fills out our little interest engagement form that says, I want to hear more about you. Our relationship starts with them then, and so the marketing and enrollment teams have a piece of that at that point.

[01:11:57] We hope that they move through enough interest, maybe attend some interest sessions and fill out an application, and then matriculate, and then that hands them off to a professional advising team in the division that really are doing outreach and engagement to convert the matriculated student into an enrolled student, because every one of those steps is a potential place where a learner can fall out of the system, either because of their own choice or because we might not have provided the right support and engagement. Once they’re in the course, the faculty member is, of course, a primary point of contact, but the advisor also has an important relationship with the student alongside and in partnership with the faculty members.

[01:12:32] Upstream financial aid has an important. role to play in helping understand how the student can have an economically sustainable model for moving through the curriculum. Career services has a role to play in helping them understand what their career goals are and how they can get the right career experience around their degree.

[01:12:49] And so as they moved all these steps, we have to have coordinated, and kind of an ecosystem approach, so that it’s not just thinking about the faculty member in the classroom they’re in right now and then the faculty member in the next class.

Faculty member is always going to be the primary agent of educational transformation for students. They tell us that. But this is absolutely a collective ecosystem model because there’s so many other dimensions of need and opportunity to work with students across their journey with us that we have to be as intentional about those related support services as we are about the learning experience in the classroom.

[01:13:22] Drumm McNaughton: That makes perfect sense. Thank you. Let’s talk because you’re not in this alone. You are working on a number of public private partnerships, the New York City mayor’s office, for example. Tell us a little bit about that, and then I really want to dig in on the pricing.

[01:13:39] Doug Harrison: Yes, so I alluded to this earlier. When we think about being, sort of, career responsive and professionally oriented in the way we construct and deliver our programs, we do that as part of a commitment to be a partner in workforce development, because when you do workforce development in the most effective way you’re doing it in a way that expands the pipeline of economic opportunity for a more diverse workforce, which has in turn, important social and economic transformational impacts on individuals, their families, their communities, and the economic and social sectors and security that a more diverse and well met economic demand creates for us as a society.

[01:14:20] So if that’s the approach that we’re taking, then it’s really important for us to think about who are the other partners that have a stake in that. It’s not just the post-secondary institution. So, we have important partnerships with New York City public schools, because lots of their students could have potential pathways to us.

[01:14:37] So in building those apprenticeship degrees, we do that really close tandem with the New York City Public Schools. The Mayor’s Office in New York City has leaned in heavily to youth workforce development, and so we have lots of connections with them to help understand how we can support the programs that the city is investing in, that create pipelines to college and career. It’s not either /or, college and career. We have industry partnerships, right?

So, both with industry defining employers themselves directly and also with community-based organizations like the New York City CEO Jobs Council and 110 and the Robin Hood Foundation. Agencies and organizations that are also committed to those same goals around workforce and economic transformation and security, and that have roles to play in terms of outreach and engagement, connecting industry, education and populations.

And so we see that as important partners. So, making sure that we have a partnership strategy and capacity, that’s another muscle in higher education that is unevenly developed and maintained. And so really building the right team of people who can help engage at various levels across that ecosystem, to help support the pathways that can only arise from actively developing and maintaining that kind of partnership strategy.

[01:15:49] Drumm McNaughton: That makes perfect sense to me. Let’s talk a little bit about pricing because as an elite, R1 institution, your pricing is not what you would expect at a community college or even a regional public.

[01:16:06] Doug Harrison: That’s right, and it does change and it becomes an important situational factor that you have to factor into the ways that you think about all of those things I just talked about before. That systems level approach of vision, strategy, tactics, operations, all of them have to account for the business model that underpins all of that.

If you’re not economically sustainable, then none of those grand commitments and ambitions are going to amount to anything. So, for us at NYU, and specifically within the division, for all the reasons I’ve talked about that it, it has a kind of unique role to play in advancing NYU’s mission.

We tackle the pricing question in a couple of ways. I mentioned associate degrees before, and that’s one important way that we help address the price point for those learners, for whom there might be economic limitations to a bachelor’s degree or an undergraduate degree at an NYU price point.

[01:17:01] So at the associate degree level, you can complete up to 62 credits toward an NYU undergraduate degree. Both the associate degree itself, which you can attain and take that to the workforce if that’s what you want to do. And if you want to continue with this, all of those credits stack directly into the bachelor’s degree. Because of the discounted price, a Pell or a tuition assistance eligible student can attend and complete our associate’s degree at no cost. That then means that half of a bachelor’s degree has been attained for half the cost at NYU.

[01:17:35] Drumm McNaughton: That’s really good.

[01:17:36] Doug Harrison: It is. The bachelor’s degree completion is at the standard NYU rate, and we recognize that’s an investment. We also know from decades of outcomes for our graduates, that the economic transformational impact of an NYU degree in New York City and around the world, is immense. Something like 96 percent of our students graduate with a career and a family sustaining wage. And just go on to do more and greater and more remunerative things in their career.

And so, while we recognize that can be a limiting factor for some students, we’re also, I think, very comfortable to say, while there may be some investment that you’re going to have to make in order to be able to complete the bachelor’s degree, we’re very confident that you’re going to have an ROI on that, not just in terms of the economics, but also the impacts in life and work that will have for you, the ability it will give you to be a leader and an agent of change in the world.

[01:18:37] We’re pretty comfortable saying that’s an investment that’s worth making.

[01:18:40] Drumm McNaughton: And Is there a reduced tuition or grants, obviously, can go into this. Do you discount your tuition for these folks?

[01:18:48] Doug Harrison: It’s not a discounted tuition rate, but we do have considerable gift funds that we can put toward aid for need. And we’re very committed to growing that and to continuing to maximally distribute that as much as possible. So, while it’s not a discounted rate per se, there are a lot of funds that we have the ability in the division to apply toward helping address some of the economic challenges some of our students might have for degree completion.

[01:19:16] Drumm McNaughton: And as i recall from our previous conversation, NYU makes the commitment to the student, they’ll be able to do their completion for under a hundred thousand dollars.

[01:19:27] Doug Harrison: Close. The university recently announced that for first-time, full-time students, that NYU will meet all the cost of attendance for families that make 100, 000 or less in terms of their stated FAFSA income. So that’s a commitment that the university’s made.

[01:19:41] Drumm McNaughton: That’s good. That is really good. Wish more institutions were doing this.

[01:19:47] Doug Harrison: Yes.

[01:19:48] Drumm McNaughton: So, let’s swap over to presidents, boards. What are some of the leadership perspectives that need to happen to make something like this come into fruition?

[01:20:01] Doug Harrison: Well, it, it doesn’t have to be a unanimity of vision across all those stakeholders, but it’s really, it’s much more effective if it is.

My experience in working with boards is, because of the kind of profiles of people that tend to end up in those seats, it’s usually not a hard sell to boards to talk about the importance of orienting education to professionally relevant and meaningful curriculum and experiences and the instruction in those enduring skills that underlie all of those outcomes. That’s usually not a hard, a hard sell.

[01:20:35] What it takes, I think, is a vision commitment to an empowerment from governing boards to executives in leadership positions to give them, what I talked about before is that sort of, permission structure to think in diverse, new, and innovative ways. Not to the exclusion of the traditional commitments that a place like NYU is always going to be invested in. We’re always going to be leaders in global education. We’re always going to be leaders in economic, financial fields. We’re always going to be leaders in cultural and social equity and empowerment. But so all those commitments that we think of when we think of NYU are always going to be there, and we’re going to continue to deliver them in that way.

[01:21:14] And what I think you’re seeing, in the ways that we’ve been talking, is an empowerment to also think and create spaces for the exploration of newer and innovative and more diverse ways to think about access that haven’t always been traditional and that I think is something that’s made SPS really special. I think it’s been there since the beginning. We’re almost 100 years old. We were founded during the Great Depression and our initial focus was trying to surge the training and education of social workers to address all of the traumatic and disruptive effects socially and economically of the Great Depression. I love that. I love that sort of speaks to what has infused our DNA from the beginning, and that’s just only continued. So that, I think now what you see with SPS, especially on the leadership of Dean Kamath, Angie Kamath, who’s really just been, a leader in all of those different ecosystem spaces in New York that I’ve talked about. She’s really, I think, just supercharged our leadership role within the university and the community, as a place to innovate at NYU, right? If it’s new and creative we’re willing to partner with you to try it. And we’ll recognize and learn from the stuff that doesn’t work, and we’ll continue to invest in and grow the stuff that can have scalable impacts to the commitments that we have in the space we serve.

[01:22:27] Drumm McNaughton: That’s a really interesting point that you bring up is failing and failing fast. If you’re going to innovate you can’t expect everything to work. You make your best bet that you can, you do your research, etc, etc. You move forward. If it doesn’t work you either cancel it or you modify it, but you’ve got to try things.

[01:22:46] Doug Harrison: That’s right. And that is not a, again, I think for reasons that are not a discredit to anyone or any institution or culture, that is not a kind of default position within higher ed, right? I mean, we’re rightly built on centuries old practices, customs and systems of knowledge and ways of knowing and operating. And those are by design. And I think in many cases, necessity, pretty intellectually small C conservative, ways of thinking about change and innovation.

So, there’s a very careful and deliberate response to the introduction of new or different, or potentially disruptive ways of thinking. And so part of what we really try to model for ourselves, and we don’t always get it right, and for others in our engagement with partners, is sort of how do we get to the critical mass of consensus that this idea is one that’s worth putting some time and resources into and then absolutely being, and this is a critical component, I think, is what the rocks on which 1000 innovative projects die, is being willing to get there quickly. Yes, that’s almost always there. You get innovative people together and they want to move fast and learn as they go. That’s almost always present in good innovation.

[01:23:57] What’s almost always the fail point for a lot of innovation is it doesn’t have a rigorous and strong evaluation plan established up front that says, “What are we actually trying to do here?” It’s interesting. Everybody thinks it could be exciting and probably fun in most cases. But what are the actual, specific outcomes that we’re attempting to get to, prove, and understand as part of pilot phase one MVP, whatever you call it, your preferred innovative language. Your sprint, right? I give a shout out to my agile people.

And then what is the data that you have to collect along the way? Quantitative and qualitative data, that you have to collect along the way to understand progress toward the specific measurable outcomes that you identified as the reason why you’re doing this.

Who’s responsible for what, what are they delivering, what does success look like, what does failure look like, so at the end of your first phase of things, you can then all come together and do your retrospective and say, okay, we didn’t hit this mark, but you know, that’s because of a correctable problem, challenge, infrastructure, whatever. Or we actually didn’t hit these metrics, and there are some real key structural challenges around it. And now’s not the time to try to take this thing to the next scale of growth. That all has to be driven, and it gets back to that data driven model we were talking about previously, we all have to understand up front.

What is the shared goal, especially when you’re doing partnership innovation? Every stakeholder is probably equally invested and excited about the thing you’re doing, but they’re doing it for a different reason. There might be a shared goal, but their part of it is the thing they care about. And if we don’t all share what we’re responsible for and the measurable goals we’re driving toward, energy will scatter, right? Emerson has that great line about scattering your force and the lack of shared outcomes and KPIs for innovative projects. That’s the best way to scatter your force and, you know, and stumble.

[01:25:45] Drumm McNaughton: Well, yeah, you are a true systems thinker, my friend, thank you. KPIs, outcomes, metrics, all so critical to understanding where you’re going and, are you getting there?

[01:25:58] Doug Harrison: That’s exactly right.

[01:25:59] Drumm McNaughton: So, Doug, this has been fabulous conversation. I really appreciate it, and I really appreciate what you’re doing there at NYU, you. and your team. this is just fabulous stuff. Thank you.

[01:26:11] Doug Harrison: Thank you for having me. Thanks for, All you, you do and have done to really keep a focus on the best work that’s going on in higher ed and how to make, how to give that knowledge back to the community. I’m really grateful for you. Thanks.

[01:26:22] Drumm McNaughton: Thank you. Three takeaways for higher ed presidents and boards.

[01:26:27] Doug Harrison: Well, it won’t be probably anything new that I haven’t said in one form or another already in our time together. But, one is to really know what you’re good at and know what you’re not going to try to be the best at because, the segmentation and the fragmentation that’s going on within higher ed and the economy and in society and in, you know, globally, is only going to continue to put disruptive pressure on the mission and the focus of any given institution.

[01:26:55] And so knowing where you want to be good, what values do you want to primarily put investment in is key. And that’s true for both governing boards and executive leadership in working with each other, and then in engaging with teams. So be clear about that, and don’t be afraid to say, this is the primary box we’re working in.

[01:27:15] So that is the one. A second is to the conversation we were just having. Yes, to encouraging innovation in a contextually appropriate and specific way, not everybody is going to have a piece of the innovation puzzle the same. But what is it that this particular area, unit, school, college, department, can innovate around in terms of that shared vision that we said we were going to be good at? What are some of those things ?Empower that, yes, but also reward the learning that comes from failure. The innovative projects that don’t go, and then think about what we tell our students, if we don’t help our students learn through productive and constructive failure, then that resiliency, that grit, the enduring skills to survive the transformations that are going to be happening across their life and work won’t be there. Same is true for innovation and how we do that. And I think, finally, it is model a culture of humanity and shared civility across our organizations. The pressure that higher education is under right now, has a lot of human impacts, wherever someone sits, right? That can have all sorts of reticulated negative impacts on how we work together with each other and with students.

[01:28:25] Sometimes I think these shorthand ways of thinking can be helpful. And I guess I would just reiterate for all of us as leaders to remember that at some level culture is what we tolerate. And really modeling, for the people we work with, what integrity and professionalism and collaboration look like. Rewarding it and also holding each other accountable for when the pressures and strains maybe, put some, some destructive pressure on the fabric of our communities.

[01:28:52] Drumm McNaughton: Those are great takeaways. Thank you. What is next for you? What’s next for NYU?

[01:28:58] Doug Harrison: Oh, gosh.. Well, I got the shoulder to the plow here. You know, we’ve got a, we’ve got a three year plan for how we want to bring all the different components of the vision we were talking about together into being, over the life of our programs. We both know the pace at which even innovative and responsive organizations can move in higher ed.

[01:29:19] So we know that there’s got to be some deliberate intentionality around this, so that’s my primary focus. And I just really want to continue to champion the part of the NYU world that I get the privilege and opportunity to lead and to work with as a leading innovator in how we think about and think differently about the value proposition, the transformative impact, social and economically, of higher ed.

[01:29:41] So that’s where you’ll see me for the foreseeable future.

[01:29:43] Drumm McNaughton: Very good. Well, Doug, thank you so much for being on the program. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. I look forward to the next time.

[01:29:50] Doug Harrison: Thank you so much again.



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