On November 30, 2016, ITHAKA brought together nearly 200 of our nation’s academic library, publishing, technology, and higher education leaders in New York City to make sense of where higher education is heading in America and how this will impact the information ecosystem that is essential to teaching and research. Jeff Selingo, New York Times best-selling author on higher education, moderated the event known as The Next Wave 2016, asking thought-provoking questions and drawing on his decades of experience and his recent roles as special advisor and professor of practice at Arizona State University and visiting scholar at the Center for 21st Century Universities at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Mitchell Stevens, associate professor of education at Stanford University and director of the Center for Advanced Research in Online Learning, kicked off the day. Stevens provided context for the state of higher education today and suggested some ways in which it is likely to and needs to change. Several themes emerged that were echoed in subsequent panels and discussion, most notably the need to scale opportunities for education in ways that are affordable for students, their parents, and US tax payers, while also ensuring higher education does a better job of meeting the needs of employers. Stevens presented a potential approach for achieving this in California where there is a perfect storm – more qualified high school graduates than seats at California colleges and universities as well as a gap in employer needs for skilled workers.

As the day progressed, attendees looked at a range of initiatives aimed at addressing the scale-cost issue. Marie Cini, vice provost and senior vice-president for academic affairs at UMUC, cited a one-year savings of $17 million for students, achieved by replacing textbooks with open educational resources in their courses. Mark McBride, Monroe Community College’s director of library services, highlighted similar student cost savings as well as other positive outcomes related to their switch to using open educational resources – greater student engagement in courses and higher completion rates. Charles Isbell, professor of interactive computing and senior associate dean at Georgia Tech’s College of Computing, walked through in detail how Georgia Tech has scaled its Master’s program in Computer Science by offering an online program at a fraction of the cost of in-person courses. The success of this program – now in its third year – reflects not only how digital solutions can be used to effectively scale learning, but also how the market for higher education may grow as it becomes more convenient and affordable for older, employed people to earn degrees who otherwise would not. Isbell noted that according to a Harvard-Georgia Tech study, this specific program alone will add at least 7% to the total number of graduate CS degrees in the US each year.

Reaching more students and expanding programs is also happening at small colleges. Gretchen McKay, professor of Art History and chair of the Department of Art & Art History at McDaniel College shared her experience taking part in an intra-institutional effort to develop courses and enroll students across a network of independent, private colleges as a means of supporting student learning by leveraging expertise across the network while lowering, or avoiding, costs at each school.

Getting more for less was also echoed in a series of initiatives discussed by academic librarians forging new partnerships to amplify efforts to make more content, old and new, available to students and scholars in digital form. Ann Thornton, vice provost and university librarian for Columbia University, shared the motivations, challenges, and benefits of the 2CUL and ReCAP initiatives in which Columbia is a partner library with Cornell and NYPL and Princeton respectively. Some of the positives were predicted like giving students and researchers access to a combined collection of more than 30 million volumes, while others were pleasant surprises including regular calls with other library directors fostering peer-to-peer learning and strategizing about a whole range of topics. John Price Wilkin, dean of libraries and university librarian at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, dug into the details of how HathiTrust was formed and the importance of clear statements of purpose and some of the advantages of working from within the institutions rather than setting up a separate non-profit organization.  He also made clear the financial benefits of intra-institutional collaboration, citing the cost to the University of Illinois to participate in HathiTrust and ArchivesSpace as a fraction of what it would be to go it alone.

Again and again, the need to change how we work to address the higher education environment with its financial constraints and digital opportunities punctuated the day. Jon Cawthorne, dean of libraries at West Virginia University, is at an institution poised for growth with UWV’s president calling for a significant increase in undergraduate enrollment in the coming years. Cawthorne is focused on organizational development and transforming his operation, working in partnership with a less-traditional partner for the library – a new talent and culture leader on campus. Meanwhile, Amy Brand, director of MIT Press, discussed re-aligning her organization through staff engagement in key initiatives like redefining their vision and adapting scrum methods to internal communication, as well as finding ways to productively partner with MIT and the library, bringing data and expertise to their thinking and developing a shared agenda around open access, as they move ahead envisioning a new future for the library through a public process both on and beyond the campus.

Student expectations and demographic shifts were also laid bare. Lee Rainie, director of internet, science, and technology at the Pew Research Center cited traditional measures like the growth in Hispanic and Asian students as well as the rising share of lower-income students as universities and colleges plan for the future. He also flagged increasingly important trends, like people’s trust and identification with personal networks over institutions, and the value of the large, personal networks to future success. Cliff Lynch, executive director of the Coalition for Networked Information, touched on these issues from another angle: the question of ethics and responsible use of date, including student data, as we move ahead. The tension between old and new, and how to blend our understanding, was echoed later in the day particularly around the issue of course materials and digital vs. print where we continue to see both formats succeeding. Amy Brand, director at MIT Press gave a stark example – an open access book by the press is also among its best sellers in print.

Attendees engaged with panelists throughout the day, and the speakers engaged one another. Mitchell Stevens commenting after the last session of the day which featured several technology start-ups using machine learning to improve research and teaching said, “I’ve seen the future and it’s in Toronto!” referencing the home-turf of the new research service, Meta. Meta CEO, Sam Molyneux walked through the scientific research process, mapping the bottlenecks – from being aware of new research with upwards of 4,000 new scientific papers published per day to speeding time to publication – and talked about how Meta is systematically working to address them. Colleen Hunter, Channel Partner Manager at Yewno, demonstrated new ways of mapping concepts, users navigating and discovering research, and enhancing the concept data set by virtue of these human-machine interactions. The conversation concluded with acrobatiq CTO John Rinderle highlighting the power of machine learning when used as a tool to support teachers – helping them to identify challenging topics, struggling students, and suggesting strategies for improving outcomes.

At the conclusion of the day, ITHAKA president, Kevin Guthrie, commented that our sector is characterized by a relentless breaking down of historical boundaries, challenging the information ecosystem to adapt to an environment where researchers and students are learning at all ages, from diverse locations, and within networks that crisscross institutions, public and private groups, and time.  This calls on us to rethink our libraries and content. We need to loosen our grip on past structures and processes and find new ones. How should we facilitate content development while maintaining quality; cover the associated costs; manage distribution, access and availability; and reliably steward content’s management over time, including the crucial task of long-term preservation of the increasingly diverse, multi-media, and re-mixed set of materials being created today so it may be used by the scholars and students of the future?

Presentations, posts, and tweets:

The Next Wave 2016 Presentations: Mitchell Stevens | Marie Cini | Charles Isbell | John Price Wilkin | Colleen Hunter | John Rinderle

Blog Post: Lessons for Scholarly Communications from The Next Wave 2016 by Deanna Marcum, Ithaka S+R Senior Advisor

Twitter: #ithakatnw16

Further reading from Ithaka S+R:

Sept 29, 2016: Higher Ed Insights: Results of the Spring 2016 Survey

Sept 15, 2016: CIC Consortium for Online Humanities Instruction: Evaluation Report

Sept 6, 2016: Student Data in the Digital Era

Aug 18 2016: Organizing the Work of the Research Library

June 9, 2016: Serving the Adult Student at UMUC

Mar 7, 2016: Helping Students Save Money with Open Educational Resources