Breakthrough Models Incubator 2013 group photo

Grants Awarded to All Seven Breakthrough Models Incubator Teams

What’s better than getting a $100,000 check? Giving one away!

That makes it an especially exciting week at NGLC, because we’ll be sending out seven to fund very promising projects—one to each team in the inaugural cohort of the Breakthrough Models Incubator (BMI).

Starting At the Top

In July 2013, seven institutional teams comprised of presidents and C-level executives spent 2.5 days learning about design thinking from IDEO designers.

Using the principles they learned—specifically the practice of seeking inspiration from comparable situations—the teams either created entirely new plans or refined existing ones. Inspiration came from a number of places, including Weight Watchers and e-Harmony—both of which are successful services that offer personalization and responsiveness to end users. 

Developing Sustainable Business Models

As the process unfolded, the teams worked with rpkGROUP to understand higher education from a finance perspective. They developed a business model for each individual project using a custom-built pro forma template, which helped them to determine a project’s ROI by carefully generating a picture of net revenue. Teams also crafted KPIs, which will help in measuring and tracking success in concrete ways.

Projects to Boost Student Success

Teams discovered the importance of factoring culture into change initiatives; they saw the value of engaging students’ voices in their planning process --- it saved them a lot of time and tweaking overall and brought forward some interesting ideas.

The cohort produced seven unique plans to boost student success, including one forerunner for BMI2014, a competency-based BA degree in IT which Empire State College, SUNY is continuing to flesh out and refine next year with the second cohort. You can review all the plans here.

  • Austin Peay State University focused on helping students to make smarter choices about their majors. The team refined and tested a version of its predictive analytics-based program, aptly titled ‘My Future’. The pilot will launch with the incoming class of 2014.
  • Ball State University created a game-based mobile application for students designed to encourage and reinforce behaviors that lead to persistence, completion and academic engagement with resources available right at students’ fingertips. 
  • Charter Oak State College is creating a web-based tool to help returning students assess prior work and life experience, mining practical knowledge for college credit. 
  • Empire State College SUNY is creating an entirely new BA degree in IT that is competency based to marry its “high touch” method of interactions with “high tech” solutions that work well for students and the institution.
  • Harper College employed the work of Harvard University’s Clay Christensen by focusing on the “job to be done” for students. The team integrated four student success initiatives into a faculty-led first year seminar that will create personalized pathways to completion for each student.
  • Montgomery County Community College developed an online MOOC to provide students with ‘just-enough, just-in-time’ information to boost financial literacy and help them make better choices. The goal? Enabling continuous enrollment and completion.
  • University of Maryland-University College designed an onboarding single-credit course to engage students in four weeks of career and academic planning, resulting in a personalized pathway to a degree that jumpstarts students’ college credit. 

Key Takeaways for Teams and NGLC

Everyone—including Incubator teams and folks at NGLC—learned some valuable lessons along the way:

  1. Design thinking can work really well as a creative approach to problem solving.
  2. Even incremental change around a business model is difficult.
  3. Completing a pro forma can be challenging, but the value of being able to know whether the investment is likely to pay off is priceless.
  4. The engagement of top-level leadership and a stable, focused core team were key to success.

This year, the Incubator has a sharpened focus on developing a competency-based education degree sequence. There will be more direct training on design thinking, professional coaches to reinforce use of those principles on the ground, and new material on moving toward financial sustainability from rpkGROUP.

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