Field Notes
Uncharted Territory: A Guide to Reimagining Higher Education

We feel it too—the future shape of higher ed is uncertain. It’s full of ambiguity, changing constraints, and new student challenges. Yet we can all agree that education is a cornerstone of a thriving society. We’re collectively inspired by a huge opportunity: if we address contemporary needs and design new approaches, higher education can be truly transformational.

This guide is Part Two of the d.school’s Stanford 2025 project—an exploration of the ways institutions have begun to chart new paths through this evolving environment. We’re excited to share what we’ve learned from featured innovators whose work is illuminating new pathways and possibilities for the sector, and most importantly, for students.

Fill out this Google form to download a PDF or we can mail you a copy as long as we have the supply. (Update 11/7/2019: We’re overjoyed that there’s been a lot of interest in the guide as well as the volume of physical guide requests we've received. We are working out the logistics of mailing and ordering more prints, so thanks in advance for your patience as it may take several weeks in order to receive a copy in the mail!)


Part 1 of Stanford 2025: What possible futures can we imagine for the college experience?

The original Stanford 2025 project responded to a specific moment of disruption: the growing popularity of MOOCs and online learning, and the rising cost of higher ed. We saw then that a number of forces were beginning to destabilize traditional models. It is in such moments that change often happens—even within an entrenched system.

Back in May 2014, many aspects of the undergraduate experience appeared ripe for reinvention. We brought our community along on a thought experiment or “journey” to the year 2100. We imagined a range of different futures, including the rise of the Open Loop University, which entails lifetime learning rather than a four year experience, and Purpose Learning, in which students declare missions not majors, among other ideas.

We received an enthusiastic response from institutions around the world that began looking for ways to implement some of the themes that were highlighted in our four original provocations.

For the original Stanford 2025 project, visit www.stanford2025.com.

We think the leaders profiled in this guide are making important contributions to how we all can think differently about the future of higher education. Their persistence, bias toward action, and just plain gutsiness, is an inspiration.

Part 2 of Stanford 2025: What’s already reshaping education?

Case Study Preview: Western Governors University structures its competency-based education model to give credit to students’ past experience and allow them to move at their own pace.

Case Study Preview: Western Governors University structures its competency-based education model to give credit to students’ past experience and allow them to move at their own pace.

Colleges and universities are experimenting with blended online and in-person classes, finding new ways to reduce costs for students and fund the enterprise, and more schools are expanding the definition of a ‘student’ to include adult, first-gen, part-time learners, and more. New disruptors have emerged: third-party education providers, funders, education technology companies, and start-up colleges and universities are now part of the sector.

Bold visionaries are shedding the constraints of what higher education has traditionally looked like; they are creating radical new models increasing access for a more diverse set of students, enabling them to better bridge the academic institution and the world they enter after graduating. Their belief in designing a better student learning experience—and in the true value of a college education— becomes their animating force for change.

We share 12 case studies that span work happening at the individual level at the fringes of an institution, to systemic changes driven by people at the dean or administrative level, and reach all the way to the extra-institutional, where the pace of change happens more quickly. We hope they will inspire and stimulate the thinking of leaders and dreamers who are itching to make a change at their own institutions.

In addition to representing a range of institutions, we focused on examples where we found vivid footprints left by the innovators as they journeyed: the early steps they took, the hurdles they faced, and the insider tips they want to impart to others. This backstory, the how, not just what, might be the less visible but more impactful actions of our innovator guides.

We think the leaders profiled in this guide are making important contributions to how we all can think differently about the future of higher education. Their persistence, bias toward action, and just plain gutsiness, is an inspiration.

We hope this guide will make you feel in good company and want to spring into action. The examples throughout this guide remind us that there are many creative people working across all levels in all kinds of educational institutions to reimagine college in a student-centered way.

Inside the Guide

2025 globe - regions only.jpg
 

Immerse yourselves in 12 case studies and actionable tips for how to get started on your campus, from long standing institutions to new ground-up institutions:

  • African Leadership University

  • Bates College

  • College Unbound

  • Duke University

  • Georgia Tech

  • Georgetown University

  • Indian River State College

  • Make School

  • Minerva

  • Maharishi Invincibility Institute

  • University of Utah

  • Western Governors University

Many of the leaders we interviewed have deeply-held views about the direction in which they see higher education moving…

“Broadly, the key thing is that we’re in a moment where we are shifting from where we’ve been for 20 years, from saying ‘we have a sub-population of students who need to change to adapt to us’ to re-thinking who we are to adapt to them.” -- Randy Bass, Vice Provost of Education at Georgetown University

Noah Pickus of Duke Kunshan University (DKU) highlights the difference between content expertise and competencies, noting that “expertise can be oversold.” At DKU, they believe that the "ability to integrate knowledge and work across fields is more important than memorizing information that is already available on your phone.”

 

Case Study Preview: Reconfiguring higher-ed architecture

How did Duke Kunshan University in China design a team-based interdisciplinary faculty model and a curriculum without majors?

 

Case Study Preview: Global rotation

How did Minerva forgo a traditional campus in favor of ‘city as classroom'?

Get a Copy of the Guide

Fill out a short Google form and we’ll send a follow up email with the link to download the PDF.

OR…We also have limited copies of the guide. To receive one in the mail, please include your address in the form when prompted. We’re able to mail these as long as we have the supply.

 
Cover_edited (1 of 1).jpg
2025Book_9-12-19_PatrickBeaudouin_IMG_5959.jpg