College executives given the opportunity last year to opine on higher education leadership for our President Speaks series focused on how they seized new opportunities and overcame challenges on their campuses. You can read those columns here.
As we turned the corner into 2020, we reached back out to them. We wanted to know what they expect will be the hurdles facing their institutions this year. Here's what they said:
Mary Marcy, Dominican University of California
One of the biggest challenges I expect to face at Dominican, and indeed expect most of higher education will be facing, is the challenge of unpredictability — in the national political climate, in the changes to enrollment practices, in the pressures on free speech and contested speech, and in the challenges to our business model. In the midst of this unpredictability, it will be essential for us to continue to implement those practices that we know are most effective for student and institutional success. It will also be important for us to continue to innovate in response to the volatile environment.
At Dominican, this means focusing on the successful implementation of our major initiatives tied to student success and institutional stability, including strengthening the Dominican Experience, completing curriculum reform and expanding our computer science partnership with Make School. It also means continued innovation, as we add targeted new programs that align with student demand and work with the state of California to create a model civic engagement partnership.
The biggest challenge may be unpredictability, but our response must be focused work that doubles down on what we know we do exceptionally well: provide educational opportunity for a highly diverse student body.
Read Mary Marcy's President Speaks column, "Don't sound the death knell for small liberal arts colleges just yet."
Astrid Tuminez, Utah Valley University
Our biggest challenges will be increasing our completion rate and managing growth while maintaining affordability and transforming digitally.
We are very lucky because our enrollment is still trending up, which is not true of many other higher education institutions. We live in a part of the country where higher education is valued and where a dynamic economy provides many opportunities for meaningful employment. As of last fall semester, we enrolled 41,728 students. This includes 12,000 high school students who are taking college courses for only $5 per credit.
Despite Utah having the third-lowest cost for tuition and fees in the nation, students still struggle financially. We are introducing new scholarship programs to bridge funding gaps, and we have put interventions in place to reach 45% completion by 2025. We will use technology to support retention, completion and other student needs from recruitment to graduation.
We aim to build a strong culture founded on exceptional care, exceptional accountability and exceptional results. In a world that's increasingly divided, we believe it is important to create opportunity systematically for as many people as possible, which is why we'll remain open admission and continue to offer a range of meaningful credentials.
Read Astrid Tuminez's President Speaks column, "Dual-mission colleges a solution to higher ed’s selectivity problem."
Freeman Hrabowski III, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC)
At a time when U.S. public life is marked by conflict and disagreement, we in higher education face the challenge of helping all of our students feel both welcome and respected within our communities. Our approach at UMBC emerges from our commitment to free expression, an inclusive practice enshrined in the Constitution that is also among our campus's core values. We recognize that the expression of opposing views can at times feel uncomfortable, or even jarring. This highlights the importance of efforts to help students navigate complexity, listen discerningly and empathically, embrace each other's humanity, and use their voices responsibly and effectively.
As we work to help students recognize the importance of voting and of involvement in the electoral process, we also have the chance to highlight other potential avenues for civic action. At UMBC, our students are solving problems and building community, on and off campus. This includes playing leading roles in reevaluating and greatly improving our approach to preventing and responding to sexual violence and misconduct. Their experiences of working across difference, and knowing that they truly matter and belong, will help all of us at UMBC hold the doors of inclusion open and strengthen our community.
Read Freeman Hrabowski's President Speaks column, "Shared governance key to becoming an 'empowered university'."
Lori Varlotta, Hiram College
A pressing 2020 goal — one that is both an opportunity and a challenge — is related to adult studies. Hiram is interested in paving a pathway to adult learners who need to reskill and upskill. Moving in this direction, we aim to design and deliver nondegree credentials such as badges or certificates. These credentials should be of immediate professional value to those midcareer employees who are looking to advance in their current career or start a new career entirely. Ideally, the badges and certificates will also include a future value proposition.
To that end, we expect the credentials to offer a strong foothold into Hiram College so that students can stack them in a way that leads to a Hiram bachelor's degree. To reach yet another subset of adult learners, Hiram is also in conversation with regional employers who are seeking to develop key competencies in their existing workforce. As part of these discussions, Hiram aims to work with industry partners to identify the outcomes — including the technical skills and power skills — the company most wants its employees to master. Student demographics in the Midwest have already changed, and Hiram endeavors to keep up with the changes at hand.
Read Lori Varlotta's President Speaks column, "What I learned from an academic redesign."
Jayson Boyers, Cleary University
Adapting the higher education model to the different types of students we are seeing on campus is what we expect will be the biggest challenge we are facing in 2020.
We have students ranging from Generation Z, who are just starting out, to baby boomers, who are retiring and wanting a second career. A few years ago, the U.S. Department of Education released data showing that three-quarters of students pursuing undergraduate degrees had at least one characteristic commonly attributed to nontraditional students. Colleges have classrooms that are composed of students who learn very differently.
We must determine the pedagogy based on the learner and how to teach on different platforms to meet different learning styles. It is our responsibility to develop pathways to success for very different learning communities across the age and experience spectrum if we are at all serious about persistence, graduation rates and even our sustainability as colleges and universities. We might even need different faculty for different student groups. Often, adult learners require very different learning approaches than traditional students. However, by intentional strategies to expand how we engage our learners, we might find this challenge makes us better prepared to serve all our students.
Read Jayson Boyers' President Speaks column, "How can small, lesser-known colleges stay relevant?"
Shirley Collado, Ithaca College
The challenges we face are not unlike those confronting many of our peers in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions: declining enrollment numbers, being responsive to the concerns families and students have around tuition and affordability, and creating and maintaining a campus environment that is deeply student-centered.
Last academic year, Ithaca College completed a collaborative and comprehensive strategic planning process, which activated and empowered our community to craft Ithaca Forever, a transformative five-year framework that puts the college on a path toward becoming what we envision to be "a global destination for bold thinkers seeking to build thriving communities."
Our plan identifies and leverages the potential of symbiotic interconnections that link so many aspects of our institution, from our enrollment and retention strategy to the development of cross-sector partnerships to expanding and innovating our financial model.
2020 will call upon all of us in the Ithaca College family to continue our progress as we complete our year-one initiatives, and launch a fresh slate of year-two objectives that will feed our momentum and sustain our necessary transformation. I look forward to continuing this work alongside a talented, focused and fearless Ithaca College community.
Read Shirley Collado's President Speaks column, "Mental health should be among colleges 'most urgent priorities'."
Carolyn Stefanco, The College of St. Rose
As we prepare to launch the second century of Saint Rose in 2020, we look back on a past filled with pride. Those who preceded us greatly expanded the size of the student body, the number of academic programs and the geographic footprint of our campus. More recent accomplishments include students who hail from 70 countries and 39 U.S. states and reflect the diversity of America. We have also added special programs to serve veterans and to foster women's leadership.
Despite our many achievements, we continue to feel the effects of the changing landscape of higher education. While the dramatic enrollment decline we experienced after the recession has slowed and we made painful cuts five years ago, we are in a similar situation to that of many independent colleges and universities. Specific issues with which we grapple include "free" public tuition in New York state, the continuing demographic decline in the Northeast, new challenges in recruiting internationally and the increasing financial need of students. In our centennial year, we are focusing on finding new ways to address these market pressures so that we can best position our institution for long-term success.
Read Carolyn Stefanco's President Speaks column, "Creating leadership pathways for women in higher ed."