As 2023 comes to a close, we’re reflecting on some of the bigger trends in the higher education and scholarly communication space and their impact on our goals to broaden access to quality postsecondary education, improve student outcomes, and advance research and knowledge.
I share these reflections below and look forward to sharing our research and working with you as we continue to address the challenges facing our sector.
In the meantime, best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year!
Catharine Bond Hill
Managing Director, Ithaka S+R
Moving away from transcript holds
Back in 2020, when we first described the pernicious effects of “stranded credits”—credits that students have earned but are unable to access because they owe a debt to a college they once attended—we outlined the types of policies at the institutional, state, and federal level that could make a difference. 2023 saw an uptick in states banning the practice of withholding transcripts for past due balances and new regulations from the Department of Education putting significant restrictions on the practice that are likely to lead most institutions to end it.
In September, we were excited to announce that the Ohio College Comeback Compact, an innovative program to help former students who owe money to a college they previously attended continue their education and reduce or eliminate the money they owe, had moved from its pilot to full implementation. Recognizing, however, that students with stranded credits often need comprehensive social, academic, and financial assistance to earn a credential, we’re looking to further support initiatives that help students succeed.
Restoring Pell grants for students who are incarcerated
As of July 1, 2023, people who are incarcerated are once again eligible to receive the federal Pell grant, ending an almost 30 year ban. With the additional funding Pell restoration is expected to bring to the higher education in prison space, quality control will be key if the hoped-for benefits of a college education are to be realized by these new students, their families, and their communities. To this end, we’ve taken a closer look at the educational technology available to students on the inside as well as the policies that govern the scholarly materials they can access.
Earlier this year, we also undertook a project to support retention, educational attainment, and student success after incarceration. With funding from ECMC Foundation, we are conducting case studies of partnerships between colleges and reentry organizations and will publish a playbook to help promote additional partnerships in this space.
The rapid rise of Gen AI
The commercial release of ChatGPT and other forms of generative AI created a firestorm this spring in and well beyond higher education. Other types of AI were already being used in university settings, particularly by researchers, but the sudden availability of consumer-friendly tools capable of generating responses to virtually any query transformed AI from a specialized tool into a mass-market product. The rapid spread of these easy-to-use tools raised important questions about their impact on higher education.
In response, we launched Making AI Generative for Higher Education, a two-year cohort project designed to assess the immediate and emerging AI applications most likely to impact teaching, learning, and research and explore the long-term needs of institutions, instructors, and scholars as they navigate this environment. We shared findings from the project’s kick-off meeting in September, and our upcoming national survey of instructors will include a module on the emergence of generative AI technologies.
College students have become increasingly mobile—the majority of bachelor’s degree earners attend two or more institutions before graduating, with many enrolling in community colleges at some point in their educational journeys. But too often students learn after transfer that many of the courses earned at one college are not accepted at their new institution, forcing them to repeat courses and limiting their opportunity to explore alternative career paths.
Over the past four years, we have been fortunate to work with CUNY to improve the transfer experience, including the development of CUNY T-Rex, a public, student-supporting tool that provides, in real-time, transparent and clear information on how course credits and credits for prior learning earned through trainings and exams transfer and apply across CUNY institutions. CUNY T-Rex provides students, and those who support them, with critical information to help them understand how current or future college courses apply to their intended major requirements to help them reach their goals, and has been accessed by more than 140,000 unique users.
Over the past year, we have been developing an ITHAKA-hosted, user-friendly application with the core features of CUNY T-Rex, with the ability to ingest course equivalency and program requirement information from the most common higher ed enterprise software systems. In 2024, we will be implementing that new site with institutions in several states—more to come!
The continuing move to “open”
On January 11, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy declared 2023 the “year of open science” and announced that federal agencies will spend the year promoting public access to research publications and data. This announcement followed the guidelines described in the “Nelson Memo” requiring all publications and supporting data produced with federal funds be made freely and publicly available without an embargo period. Notably, this mandate applies not to just large federal funders such as the NSF and NIH, but to smaller ones such as the NEH.
With this in mind, we took a closer look at what the public sharing of data means for the humanities and the extent to which the infrastructure is in place to support such sharing as we continue to work on two cohort-based research and consulting projects to help universities coordinate research data support services across campus.
Journals were the primary original focus of the transition to open access, but many university presses are at least experimenting with open monographs, even while open access book publishing remains on the fringe. For that to change, university presses need more clarity on the impact of open access on their business models. To that end, we undertook a research project with the Association of University Presses. Our findings show that almost all the open monographs included in the study did generate print revenue, and in some cases, it was significant.
December 5, 2023
The Problem at the Heart of Public Access
Roger Schonfeld, The Scholarly Kitchen
November 30, 2023
The Transfer Trap
Kirk Carapezza and Esteban Bustillos, College Uncovered Podcast
November 20, 2023
Fitness and College
Scarlet Fu and Bailey Lipschultz, Bloomberg Businessweek
November 14, 2023
Some Good News on Campus Veterans
Wick Sloane, Inside Higher Ed
November 11, 2023
New Transcript Rules Signal Relief For Millions Of College Students
Edward Conroy, Forbes
November 5, 2023
Federal Regulations on Transcript Withholding Are an Important First Step
Martin Kurzweil and Liz Looker, The Hill
October 25, 2023
U.S. Bans Most Withholding of Transcripts
Katherine Knott, Inside Higher Ed
October 3, 2023
Freeing Stranded Credits, Removing Barriers to Completion
Kathryn Palmer, Inside Higher Ed
September 22, 2023
Open-Access Books Help University Press Revenues, Study Finds
Lauren Coffey, Inside Higher Ed
September 7, 2023
The Top U.S. Colleges With the Greatest Economic Diversity
David Leonhardt and Ashley Wu, The New York Times Magazine
August 29, 2023
Could ChatGPT Be Your Next Co-Author?
Diane Peters, University Affairs
July 27, 2023
New Functionality in CUNY Transfer Explorer
Emily Tichenor, Pooja Patel, Martin Kurzweil, and Alexandra W. Logue, Inside Higher Ed
July 24, 2023
Censorship in Prisons: Key Takeaways from Ithaka S+R’s Report on the DOC’s Censorship Policies
July 10, 2023
A New York Model Helps Community College Students Reach Their Goals
Elizabeth Davidson Pisacreta and Katherine Giardello, The Hechinger Report
June 22, 2023
Teaching: Reckoning with ChatGPT
Beth McMurtrie, The Chronicle of Higher Education
June 5, 2023
Transforming Transfer through Collaborative Effort and Equitable Access
Transfer Nation Talks Podcast
May 24, 2023
Learner Mobility and Transfer in Higher Ed
Future U Podcast