One of the most emotion filled topics of the last few years has been higher education. While the media tends to pick up and foster mostly the negative views, largely of politicians posturing and making Chicken Little forecasts that the sky will or has fallen upon postsecondary institutions, the reality is that a variety of more knowledgeable, creative thinkers are speaking about the value of learning and how it can be kept vibrant for the future. Here is a sampling of three views:
The Global Knowledge Industry
Margaret Spellings, former Secretary of Education, public policy expert, and businesswoman, shared her views as part of Kaplan University’s “Visionary Voices” series. Her comments fall largely under what she refers to as the period of the “global knowledge industry.” She believes that within this context, teaching is one of the most wonderful professions an individual can aspire to join. She cites the impact a teacher has on students whether they are young or part of the increasing number of those over 50. Conversely, she also reminds us that teaching is a fun job where faculty are constantly learning and becoming better individuals themselves. She sees teaching as a stable profession with good job security, but offers that education should learn and apply some best practices from business. More specifically, 1) education should adapt more quickly to changes in circumstances; 2) education should handle human resources more efficiently and effectively; and 3) education must involve faculty more in decision-making. Finally, she feels that good teachers must be rewarded, including increases in pay if we are serious about attracting and keeping the best faculty.
Challenges + New Technology
Josh Jarrett, Senior Programming Officer, Postsecondary Success, for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, led a panel discussion at the 2011 Higher Ed Tech Summit entitled, “Breaking the Mold” that brought together a group of education leaders under this theme. Jarrett introduced the discussion by stating that education is facing at least five main challenges in the future:
1. Preparation: Students entering postsecondary education must be made ready for what they will encounter.
2. Attainment: The success rates for students must improve.
3. Demographics: The student body make-up continues to evolve and change; the numbers of enrolled students continues to grow.
4. Relevance: Higher education must make sure it is meeting the needs of its students now and in the future as they move on to their professions
5. Funding: A more stable financial base must be found for higher education.
The overarching problem in meeting these challenges, he suggested, comes from the “iron triangle” that educational leaders have identified. The points of this are cost, quality, and access; the difficulty is that adjustments to one area affect the others. The panel of experts and Jarrett believe that “exciting and promising new technology” is what may be the solution to breaking the iron triangle and meeting the challenges facing the future. They also provided some examples of what their schools and education related businesses are doing to make this happen.
A Global Tapestry
Dartmouth College’s speaker series, “Imagine the Next 250,” has a mission to help define the vision for the school’s 250th anniversary and beyond. Although the impetus is internal design, a quick review of their cadre of visionaries makes it clear that the pebble of change on this campus ripples throughout the future of higher education. Chair and associate profess of African American Studies at Dartmouth, Antonio Tillis, narrates his own foray into his field of expertise; then takes us with him into a characteristic of education’s future.
Tillis shares that like many people, he grew up defining the term ‘African American’ as “African United Statesian,” meaning he had “limited his conception of “blackness” to the territory north of the Rio Grande.” However, when he began his graduate studies, he discovered a wealth of writers who spoke about the parallel civil rights struggles of those disenfranchised descendants of African slaves in the Western Hemisphere; therefore, enlightening him into new awareness on the human experience in this area. The difficulty he faces is teaching about transnational cultures with Dartmouth’s students who are struggling within more narrow boundaries as he once did. He solves this in part by making concrete connections to the students’ own experiences. Tillis concludes his comments by stating: “I think the Dartmouth student of the future is going to be even more transnational and global than the Dartmouth student of today. The world is their tapestry and their playground much more so than the students of my generation.”
The above commentators are not the only education visionaries to speak about the future of education; it is imperative that input such as theirs be heard. Certainly the enthusiasm and respect that exudes from Spellings matched with the exciting new technologies of Jarrett and the realization Tillis shares that we must look beyond to the realization that the proverbial box of our local perceived boundaries doesn’t exist. In reality, the future of education is dynamic, limitless, and liberating.