College presidents from leading institutions met in San Diego this week at the ASU-GSV Summit, where educators, inventors, and investors came together to discuss the unprecedented changes in education as a result of the pandemic. After more than a year of disruption and determined innovation, these presidents were candid in their assessments of the change required to innovate and sustain new learning models, redefine roles for faculty and staff, and to ensure that the technology infrastructure can support new ways of teaching and learning.
The panel, moderated by Michael Horn, senior strategist at Guild Education, included:
- David Thomas, president of Morehouse College
- Gregory Fowler, president of the University of Maryland Global Campus
- Scott Pulsipher, president of Western Governor’s University
- Ruth Watkins, former college administrator and current president of Strata Education Network, a nonprofit focused on building clearer and more purposeful pathways between education and employment.
As the panel discussed instruction and learning changes as a result of their rapid shift to online learning, they focused on transformational change as a way to reduce the disparity of student outcomes, particularly for minority learners, and how to increase the alignment for education-to-work pathways. Accomplishing immense change while retaining the traditional research and scholarship functions of public universities is a balancing act that requires, clarity, care, and collaboration.
Pandemic Outcomes Leading to Change
- Sharpened focus on tangible outcomes in higher education, such as the education to employment pathway.
- Great optimism that we are reimagining higher education for the better. There is more interest and enthusiasm for collaboration and conversation among two- and four-year institutions than ever before.
- New research during the pandemic revealed that 73 percent of respondents believe that college should set students up for career and life success. Colleges and universities must determine what kind of change is involved in making a shift to these outcomes.
- There doesn’t need to be a dichotomy between developing job skills and higher order critical thinking skills. We can do both, and both are important. Students are looking for their first employment but also for the meaning and purpose of life.
- Will institutions do the hard work of thinking through future outcomes or return to the “normal” of the pre-pandemic? What did we learn from this time and how do we incorporate it into future practice?
- Some of the early COVID federal funding was used to solve revenue loss and was not invested in infrastructure. While students like the expansion of learning models and additional ways to learn, it does not appear that the same level of change conversation is going on for the faculty and administration. Many institutions just want to return to “normal,” although normal was not serving all students.
- Ensure that change is not just accelerated but that it changes the trajectory of higher education. What is the purpose of higher education? Do we commit to the mission or change the mission? Many colleges have just been keeping their head above water, so how can they move forward?
- For traditional institutions, the pandemic has unleashed seismic forces. Leaders are grappling with the need for change and transformation. The last year accelerated the changes that had already been in motion for twenty years.
- We have to consider the dangers and moral hazards of a focus on student outcomes – particularly when framed in the context of those who do not have access. Should higher education become more skills focused? We have to ask the purpose of a post-secondary education. We have been focused on learning to be good citizens. How to ensure this doesn’t get lost in the conversation. We have to create pathways to careers but also to higher order skills, such as critical thinking and the ability to deal with the dynamism of the post-university world.
- We have to continually assess how we are innovating. How will we measure that? Does enrollment represent the community we’re serving? Is equity working for everyone?
- There is the opportunity to immerse students in different types of learning experiences than those that have been traditionally available. How will those be assessed?
- Institutions must evaluate the entire student experience. Do all members of the university team understand their role and how they bring value in a changing environment?
Moving forward, higher ed institutions need to clarity their mission, find new ways to build community, create new learning experiences, become less rigid about traditional assumptions, integrate and embed technology as a facilitator of learning, and support faculty with professional learning on effective uses of technology for teaching and learning.