Public research universities are under great pressure to increase access, lower costs, and improve instruction, even as they face diminishing financial support from the states they serve. Against this backdrop, Ithaka S+R, with funding from Lumina Foundation, undertook a study of ten institutions in the Public Flagships Network (PFN). Over the course of the 2013/2014 academic year, Ithaka S+R interviewed 214 individuals, ranging from presidents and provosts to key administrative officers and staff, to department chairs and faculty. Members of PFN are keenly aware of the changes taking place in higher education, and they are committed to leading the transformation. To that end, PFN encouraged this study to better understand the current environment.

Our findings show that administrators are hoping to harness the power of technology-enhanced education to improve time-to-degree and completion rates, provide relief for space constraints, improve student learning, and fulfill their institution’s outreach mission. However, there are several steps that these universities must undertake to reach these goals:

  • Clearly communicate the value of technology-enhanced education to students and faculty, while also being transparent about the costs and the benefits of online learning.
  • Create clear and meaningful incentives for faculty and departments to innovate with technology.
  • Develop and share clear plans for implementing online learning in stand-alone and hybrid forms.
  • Provide the resources needed to facilitate an easy transition to online learning.

Through our research, we also found many examples of innovative practices, initiated by faculty and within academic departments, which hold promise for holding down costs and improving student outcomes. The Public Flagships Network is well positioned to leverage these successes across their campuses and also to explore more extensive forms of cross-institutional collaboration, such as sharing instructional technology and data infrastructure. Our report concludes with a list of the broad areas where PFN should concentrate its efforts to achieve the goals they have set for themselves.