Applying the Jobs-to-Be-Done Model in Higher Education

Peter Stokes

In Brief

4-Minute Read

A Paradigm Shift

The attainment of a four-year degree is no longer a foregone conclusion for today’s high school students — and it is not necessarily due to a lack of millennial motivation. These students are no less career-minded than their predecessors. Rather, they are quetioning the notion that a college degree will deliver the skills required to compete in tomorrow’s job market.

Students are 'hiring' education providers to do a job: to prepare them with the skills needed to sustain thriving careers.

In short, students are “hiring” education providers to do a job: to prepare them with the skills needed to sustain thriving careers. These learners are approaching education decisions with a consumer mindset, assessing options, comparing pricing and calculating the perceived value. Thus, institutional leaders are beginning to think more like CEOs.

University presidents are surveying the competitive landscape, gauging the needs of their “customers” and refining their value propositions. They are evaluating the jobs to be done (i.e., the tasks for which students are hiring them) more critically and holistically through the lens of the students, questioning every aspect of the journey. Leaders also recognize that planning for the future does not have to be at the expense of progress today.

Dual Transformation is a strategy that simultaneously strengthens and repositions an institution’s core offerings while identifying new opportunities to drive long-term growth.

Arizona State University Improves Access with Pay-Upon-Completion Model

In a well-publicized move in 2015, Arizona State University (ASU) announced a first for higher education —  the creation of the Global Freshman Academy (GFA). The GFA would enable students to take a year of freshman courses online for free and only pay tuition if they pass the courses and wish to apply the course credits toward matriculation at ASU or another institution.

The impetus for the program is a commitment to furthering the institution’s charter for being “measured not by whom it excludes but by whom it includes and how they succeed.” To do so, the university’s leaders began testing innovations with delivery and pricing and conducted a jobs-to-be-done exercise. They found that while many prospective students needed to work while pursuing a degree, the university lacked a flexible first-year program that enabled them to do so. These students either sought alternative options or gave up altogether. Thus, the leadership team leveraged the jobs-to-be-done insights to build a framework for the GFA program and develop a business case.

Although some skeptics have speculated on the risks of massive open online courses, including the cannibalization of community college enrollments and the validity of assessments, the GFA marked a big step forward for the large-scale personalization of education. For ASU, the GFA program now serves as a platform for the university’s dual mission of increasing freshman enrollments today while improving graduation rates tomorrow. Furthermore, it established the critical technology infrastructure needed to gather rich data for refining curricular offerings and improving student success.

Conducting an Initial Assessment

For Dual Transformation to succeed, it is helpful to conduct an initial assessment of the institution’s culture, organizational structure, governance and receptivity to change. Administrators may gauge their institution's level of change readiness by asking functional and executive leaders questions that can prompt candid conversations, such as:

  • What market need will you address?
  • Who struggles most acutely with this problem today?
  • How would you propose addressing the problem?
  • Why would now be the right time for us to pursue this?

This high-level assessment can provide a baseline understanding of current perspectives and the obstacles to change, as well as foster rapport and collaboration for charting a path forward.

Reimagining Higher Education from the Student's Perspective

As higher education enrollments continue to be less predictable and more competitive, institutional leaders are accelerating efforts to reimagine the experience from the student perspective. They are approaching future planning by first seeking to understand the tasks that students are “hiring” their institutions to do and then responding with programs rooted in these insights.

As a result, institutions are uncovering new opportunities by redesigning existing offerings, creating credentialing alternatives and developing breakthrough programs. A Dual Transformation approach is enabling these institutions to lay the groundwork for future growth and reap benefits along the way.

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