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Let's Stimulate, Not Stifle, Innovation in Higher Education | Commentary

Now I am part of an institution that is re-engineering the modern student experience. Some 75,000 of our students attend our online university, while about 1,000 study at our campus in Clinton, Iowa. Seventy-three percent are working adults, 62 percent are 30 or older, 48 percent are people of color, and 20 percent are active-duty military or veterans. For these students whom traditional institutions often underserve, we offer flexible schedules for classes and semesters, with new semesters starting every Monday.

Unlike more traditional institutions, Ashford measures outcomes, quickly responds to results and rapidly embraces change. Oriented to serving our “customers,” we conduct quarterly student satisfaction surveys and modify our programs and procedures to do more of what demonstrably supports student retention and success. And we counsel students who have been with us for three weeks but who are already underperforming to leave, at no cost, with no debt, but with the opportunity to go out, build their skill set and reapply later.

Policymakers should not single out an emerging sector with regulations more strict than those for established institutions. Accountability should be for all institutions, in every sector, comparing their success rates for comparable students and considering “risk profiles” for factors such as college readiness.

Competition and change are good for every sector of American life, including education. Public policies should push progress forward, not hold it back.

Gregory L. Geoffroy is chairman of the board of trustees of Ashford University. He was president of Iowa State University from 2001 to 2012 and previously served as senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Maryland.

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