Skepticism is higher ed's biggest challenge, two Harvard presidents say
- The greatest challenge facing higher education in the U.S. is "skepticism about the value of higher education," and its "product: facts, sciences, knowledge [and] an educated citizenry that is not just narrowly trained but broadly educated," said outgoing Harvard University president Drew Faust in a taped conversation with incoming president Lawrence Bacow.
- Bacow said that because the cost of college has risen, more "people have adopted more of a consumerist or instrumental approach to higher education." He explained the way the industry is being evaluated now — where it's "based on the incomes of their graduates after their first job" — means that he and Faust "would have been considered failures coming out of our alma maters."
- Now that people "are questioning whether or not colleges and universities contribute to the American dream," said Bacow, it's critical that institution leaders, "change that conversation." And at the same time, added Faust, leaders must remember "it's very serious work and it's work that has enormous relevance and impact, and changes lives."
At the same time industry stakeholders have been questioning the relevance of the modern institution, many have also been considering whether the degree itself is still going to hold relevance in the evolved workforce. Leaders including University of Maryland, Baltimore County President Freeman A. Hrabowski say executives need to do an even better job of explaining the purpose of academia. During a speech he delivered at the 2018 American Council on Education annual meeting, Hrabowski said that higher education is a main component of the American dream and that narrative should not change. In order for higher ed to maintain its relevance, he said industry leaders must be answering "sticky questions we have in our society," he said.
Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University, echoed this sentiment during the same session, but added that "Our future hinges on whether we have ambitious, socially connected, networked, savvy kids who have hope or who are hopeless," he said. "Because, it's in their hopelessness that breeds the roots of civil discontent and discord that we see in so many parts of the world."
"When we give students education and tools to better their lives, we are in the business of hope and we are in the business of making the future better," LeBlanc added. "Higher education is the engine of social mobility and the engine of social justice. And, that's what we do everyday collectively."
- Harvard Gazette Two leaders, one Harvard
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