Getting out of the ivory tower and into the public square
- Governors State University President Elaine Maimon thinks higher ed leaders must do a better job of listening — to their surrounding communities, to each other and to partners. "Every institution is in a community ... and these groups are so happy when the institution wants to not only tell them things and ask them things, but listen to them," she told an audience assembled in Washington, D.C. for the American Council on Education's 100th annual meeting Sunday.
- Urging four-year institutions to build stronger relationships with community colleges, she said, "we have to be open to having community college faculty teach us, because in many cases, they have more experience dealing with the new majority students than we do."
- Maimon also believes an integrated approach between faculty development and student success is important; the conversation can't afford to be isolated. And, a large part of this integration is investing in mentoring and making sure faculty understand their role as mentors, which could require some faculty development, she said.
Community engagement is a critical component of the work needed for higher education leaders to begin to turn the tide and change public opinion around the industry. One part of this is working to build partnerships that actually benefit the community, like Texas A&M-San Antonio's school of education has done by sending its students into the highest need schools in the area, rather than those that are already thriving.
Another is by making research accessible to everyday citizens, which requires thoughtful consideration of the language used and the publication outlets. It could mean partnering with unlikely messengers to spread the word, as in the case of UNLV's Dr. Michael Pravica, who teamed up with Bleacher Report and Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch to talk physics on Lynch's web series. But it starts with making sure institutional leaders are connected to the research taking place on their own campuses, which could be used to impact student outcomes on campus as well.
But recognizing that members of the community itself — and faculty and staff at other institutions which have deeper ties to that community — have something valuable to add to the conversation requires a culture shift in the industry. Often, the hierarchy, which puts the most value on Ivy League institutions, then public Research I institutions and often discredits regional public institutions, historically black and minority-serving institutions and community colleges, reinforces the elitism that many see as the reason for the populist revolt against higher ed.
“We've had this pecking order that if you go to a community college or a technical school, you're not as valuable,” said West Virginia University President and higher ed stalwart Gordon Gee recently. “But the reality is the two- and [regional] four-year schools are the front door to the American economy.” But, as Maimon pointed out, many of today's students are those who have been traditionally served by these institutions for decades. And with data showing higher ed as a whole is falling behind on retention and completion, it may be time to shift the thought paradigm to place more emphasis on these traditionally marginalized perspectives.
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