The Women Saving Higher Education

Women in Higher Education
Source: Women in Higher Education

Higher education may be notoriously resistant to change, but at this point, the writing's on the whiteboard, so to speak. Change is inevitable. Some of our most ambitious entrepreneurs and deep thinkers are taking aim--challenging the entire financial model, delivery system and value proposition of possibly the greatest model of advanced learning history has ever known.

Erin Krampetz and Marina Kim are among the entrepreneurs determined to shake things up and disrupt the system. But they're not out to take down higher ed. In fact, they just might be the ones to save it.

"Universities are being disrupted and they are questioning what is next," says Krampetz. "They need to differentiate themselves and they need to innovate, but they're not quite sure how. All they hear is MOOCs and they know MOOCs are not the only answer."

Krampetz and Kim, cofounders of Ashoka U, have their own answer: the Changemaker Campus.

They aim to do nothing less than transform institutions of higher learning into incubators of a coming wave of social change.

recent study revealed that 70 percent of college students say "having a job where they can make an impact on causes and issues that are important to them" is very important.
Add that to the increasingly complex challenges of our increasingly interconnected world and you've got a pool of willing young problem solvers with a lot of demand on the horizon.

Universities can and should, Kim and Krampetz argue, be the springboard for solutions, training the next generation of social changemakers in the practical entrepreneurial skills they will need, fostering the collaborative approaches they will use, and building the support systems they will rely on to make a difference--during their schooling and after. What is needed is a major cultural shift; a framework change. And that's not something that comes naturally in academia.

"It's the nature of change that in every organization there are some people who are more comfortable leading change and then there's a whole group that prefers to resist change," says Kim. "And the reality is that in higher education, change is happening. If you don't change for the better you will not survive, or you will be forced to change in a way that you have no autonomy over." It's a clarion call for institutions willing to take the leap.

So Ashoka U developed a method for identifying those institutions, and the individuals within in them, that are ripe for this transformation. Modeled on the exceptionally rigorous process for selecting Ashoka Fellows (chosen for their revolutionary innovations as well as their potential to force systems change), potential Changemakers Campuses go through a series of evaluations by a panel of experts that includes educators and social entrepreneurs.

Each campus must demonstrate its potential to be fully committed to social entrepreneurship and changemaking at every level--graduate and undergraduate, academic and extra-curricular, among students, faculty, administrators and alumni, and on campus and in town. They seek to engage individual students in solving social problems and to spearhead institution-wide restructuring aimed at tearing down barriers to innovative thinking and learning. They work with community leaders to leverage the passion and intellectual power of students and faculty to be problem-solving members of the surrounding region.

They also partner with industry to connect graduates with careers that require innovation skills. Verizon is one such partner. "They see our Changemaker Campuses as a R&D opportunity to see how can they deploy their technology in new ways to address health, environment and education challenges," says Krampetz. "They see our universities as a front line of coming up with those ideas and actually prototyping them." Adds Kim: "They also want their executives at regional offices to come to the Changemaker Campuses to get excited about the young talent that's coming out of this type of education, to see how hiring changemakers can benefit their company."

Each campus must have a designated high-level administrator, called a Change Leader, who has the full support of the provost and president to envision the path to a fully integrated social innovation ethos and to rally the university community around the goal. In other words, it's all in.

"So far we've been very successful because we only look for the very entrepreneurial, visionary people who embrace change, like to lead it, and can include many people across that change," says Kim. She concedes that's not always easy to find. "It's a unique personality type who can move academic from within, because academia is very conservative of its traditions and very proud of its rituals."

Still, there are already 19 Changemaker Campuses and they represent practically every kind of higher education institution in the US: large and small, public and private, new and old, and schools known for innovation and those one might expect to be staunchly opposed to any change at all, including two Ivies. What they all have in common is a deep, institute-wide commitment to social changemaking.

A Changemaker Campus designation also offers prospective students an assurance that the school is dedicated to offering opportunities to make a difference and set off on a path to a future of personal impact. In a sea of options, this is a significant indicator that a diploma from the institution has a particular and unique value. But Krampetz and Kim hope it doesn't remain unique for long. One by one, they hope, these Changemaker Campuses will tip the higher education sector so that a world-changing mission becomes the very definition of "university."

For Krampetz and Kim it's a vision they've both had their entire adult lives. Since their days as Stanford undergraduates, they have been, it's fair to say, positively obsessed with social changemaking. They were back-to-back presidents of the student Future Social Innovators' Network (FUSION), hosted campus workshops and lecture series featuring social entrepreneurs and did internships with social innovation organizations. Kim founded the university's undergraduate minor in social innovation and together they landed a presenter slot at the very first Skoll World Forum back in 2004. Kim, 29, was recently named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list of Social Entrepreneurs (Krampetz, 30, missed inclusion on the list by a mere six months).

Together, they founded Ashoka U in 2008, and with an increasing number of American colleges and universities seeking Changemaker Campus designation, the two now have their sights set on expanding globally. Two European universities are going through the selection process now, with one university from Mexico already in the cohort.

Ashoka U's approach was on full display last week at the AshokaU Exchange, a gathering of students, faculty, administrators and social entrepreneurs who spent three days sharing ideas and envisioning the campus of the future. This is not a group that shrinks from discussion of the serious problems facing higher ed: Tuition's too high, student debt is insurmountable, brick and mortar is of dubious value, quality can be indeterminate, and universities, by and large, are clinging stubbornly to an outdated model and mission. But those in attendance are the ones actively doing something about it without claiming that the era of the university is over.