Innovating Beyond SXSW EDU: Announcing the Higher Education Ecosystem Challenge

It goes without saying, but at SXSW EDU, there is a tremendous amount of innovation on display. Walking around over the past few days, we have seen evidence that the educational ecosystem is flourishing, with a growing marketplace of engaging ways for students to learn and find support as they navigate their educational experiences. We have heard inspiring stories of instructors and colleges and universities innovating to serve students better, alongside new providers that are emerging and maturing, helping students get the skills they need for the lives and careers they want.

What if we pushed the fast forward button, and took a look at our postsecondary education system a decade or two into the future? Do we see that these innovations are providing access to high-quality education for the diversity of students that need it? Are all students being given the information and support they need to follow their individual education and career pathways? Can students rebundle diverse learning experiences from an active educational marketplace and derive their value across their lifetimes? Will emerging technologies, such as distributed ledgers, empower individual students and enable redesign of our system?

These are the important questions on which we will focus attention. And through The Higher Education Ecosystem Challenge we will work with the entire educational community to answer them. This Challenge will be an opportunity to discover and shine a spotlight on your good ideas and most promising work.

We know that these questions cannot be answered by one organization or one sector: not by colleges alone; or employers; or people who find new ways to deliver content or support students. It’s going to require collaboration and an ecosystem approach. We want the most creative minds in education and technology to work together to make this future a reality.

We will be launching this Challenge formally later this spring. We will be looking for multi-sector teams to propose design concepts for a truly student-centered ecosystem — including a roadmap for multiple systems and stakeholders and pilots for the technology that will underpin and enable this collaboration.

We will be welcoming a variety of partners to work with us to launch the most innovative of these pilots — those with the potential to have the greatest impact on the students that need postsecondary education the most.

In her remarks tonight, Secretary DeVos challenged educators and innovators to work together to rethink how we might better serve students. We look forward to continuing this conversation beyond SXSW EDU and hearing your feedback. We will be providing updates at

Sharon Leu and David Soo are Senior Policy Advisors in the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, where they focus on innovation in higher education.