Skip to main content

Universities need redesign to foster major changes

February 10, 2014

President Crow addresses World Bank leaders

While universities are excellent at solving narrow problems, new models are needed to accomplish broad social change, Arizona State University President Michael Crow told a World Bank audience, Feb. 10.

Crow said ASU was evolving a university redesign based on four key characteristics:

• centering the university around students and the community, rather than the faculty

• changing “clock speed” to make ASU agile and able to respond quickly to change

• avoiding replication of other models

• partnering with a wide range of institutions and corporations, rather than going it alone

Crow’s recommendations were detailed during “Universities as Partners in Global Development: Opportunities and Challenges: A Conversation with Arizona State University President Michael Crow,” held Feb. 10 at the World Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim introduced Crow’s talk while Elizabeth King, World Bank director of education, moderated a question and answer session. The event was broadcast via “World Bank Live.”

“We’re focused on a complete reconceptualization of what the design of a public university needs to be. The reason that we’re involved in this complete reconceptualization is that the historic designs … are inadequate to the task. They’re unable to find ways to match accessibility and excellence in the same institution,” Crow said. “Access without quality is insufficient, and quality without access doesn’t provide enough of a societal return.

“If you want systemic change, if you want to transform societies on a really large scale, then it’s not so easy to think about universities in their present structure or present design,” Crow said. “At ASU, we’re working both nationally and internationally, and also rethinking what a university can do from a systemic design change perspective. … What we’re trying to do is to find ways that we can be unbelievably innovative in the development of an agile university, a real-time adaptive institution on multiple levels, and in multiple ways.”

Central to the concept of innovation and rethinking of current models is measuring success through inclusion of students, rather than by exclusion.

“The most important thing that we want to do is to establish a university wherein the status of the university is determined not by who we exclude, but by who we include, and what students do to ultimately succeed,” he said.

ASU now largely reflects the social and economic diversity of Arizona’s population. Research has increased by a factor of four while the university’s faculty culture has been built around students. The transformation requires building an institution that rejects the desire to replicate other institutions and establishes partnerships that benefit the university and enhance learning, said Crow.

In addition, measures of success cannot be built on a set of metrics that are built to judge institutions. This can be counterproductive to the agility that is needed at a higher educational institution, he added.

“What it’s really about is tracking graduates and having a feedback loop back into the university. That means building an institution that understands its entire pipeline,” Crow said. “The quality of the school must be a measure of what happened to the people who went there.”

The New American University model is also measured through research that benefits the public good, and for the economic, social and cultural vitality, and health and well-being of the community, Crow said.

He addressed steps for tertiary education that the World Bank is advancing, such as assuring quality institutions, and advised measuring student outcomes through what is learned in areas such as critical and analytical thinking, as well as job success.

Demand for education can’t be something that only one privileged group of people have access to, and institutions of higher education need to innovate to move forward, he added. However, resistance to changing the higher education model is a pervasive global issue.

“Around the world, I’ll talk to people and they’ll say, ‘We’re nothing until we can build our MIT,” he said. Instead of reinventing other institutions, he suggests possible partnerships with existing organizations while building something new and transformative.

Evolving ASU into the New American University is a continuing process, with one extremely difficult change that has not yet been accomplished – having each student come into the university with an equal chance of success, he said.