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At the innovative Rochester campus of the University of Minnesota, our vision is to “inspire transformation in higher education through innovations that empower graduates to solve the grand health challenges of the 21st century.” Launched in 2009, this new public university campus seeks to be a scalable demonstration case for other campuses by decreasing student costs for a high-value college education while increasing student success including equity in educational attainment and post-graduation employment in high-demand health careers. With a diverse student body of 70 percent underrepresented students and a rigorous health sciences curriculum, we have closed the so-called “achievement gap” with evidence-based practices provided to all students. In 2019, these results were described in the Washington Post, Hechinger Report, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

During this recent period of historic disruptions in higher education, our innovation-focused campus community sought to build on these strong results from our first decade by enhancing the use of technology for student engagement and well-being; connecting more closely with industry partner Mayo Clinic to discern critical career competencies; ensuring disparity-reducing educational practices for all students; and creating a new curricular design to decrease students’ college costs. What emerged from our reimagining, analysis, and faculty design is “NXT Gen Med,” an accelerated, year-round program providing career-focused students with a fast-track, lower-cost, world-class University of Minnesota degree. Paid internships are embedded in the curriculum, and students document their progress toward competencies identified by our health care industry partner, ready for graduation and employment in 2 ½ years. The new technology platform created with partner Google Cloud will not only engage students and support a competency portfolio for employers, but also provide learning analytics for continuous learning enhancement.

With this new pilot program set to launch in August 2022, we are attracting students who want to make a difference in the world — and make a living. For student relevance, experiential courses will be bundled together around themes, such as disparities in the pandemic, evidence-based health care solution design, and the public communication of science. Funding from Strada’s Beyond Completion Challenge will support NXT Gen Med faculty development, industry partner internship program development, and the assessment of every aspect of the student and employer experience. This new model is designed to solve long-standing higher education problems of disparities, student cost, and career connection.

Ultimately, we are aiming to challenge orthodoxies and implement new strategies to reimagine the future of higher education and prepare our most vulnerable students and graduates for security, success, and contribution in the post-pandemic economy. In the past, higher education has squandered human potential, particularly for millions of underrepresented students who start college and drop out with debt. That outcome grieves educators and yet needed revitalization at scale has been slow, at least pre-pandemic. As a higher education enterprise, we have the privilege of developing human potential for the good of individuals and the society. We must find new ways to successfully educate a wider swath of the population to be engaged citizens who are also ready to launch careers in areas of critical workforce shortage. NXT Gen Med is one endeavor poised to contribute to a rapidly changing higher education environment.