While it is still triple digit temperatures in many parts of the United States, 2016 is ushering in the beginning of fall—from fantasy football drafts, Starbucks’ pumpkin spiced lattes, Mother Nature’s changing foliage, and the start of another school year. The fall season is a little bit like higher education’s New Year’s. Students, faculty, and administrators alike approach this new beginning with hope and determination. Even amidst the barrage of negative attention, there are glimmers of change, sparks of innovation, and traces of progress. Institutions focus on accomplishing strategic initiatives, implementing new programs, and improving operational practices.
Certain responsibilities accompany the start of every new school year. Higher education has been challenged over the past several years to demonstrate its value, affordability, and relevance within a changing global economy. Likewise, students are continuing to face struggles in gaining access to institutions once believed to be for the public good. Although change is never easy and solutions may seem out of reach, every institution can start the year with a united focus. Students first.
Higher education is facing very real issues. Increasing regulatory pressures shift institutional focus away from educating students toward maintaining compliance. Rising economic costs and limited state and federal support force leadership to expend energy finding alternative sources of funding. Decreasing enrollments cause institutions to rethink their continued viability and marketplace value. These issues, and many more, are pulling higher education into uncharted territory and increasing competition. As in any competitive environment, the focus for sustainability must shift back to the individuals that institutions were designed to serve.
The Challenge: So as we begin this “New Year,” we should all stop and ask ourselves, are we earning our tuition? Do the programs we offer prepare students for success? Do the services we offer support students in achieving their academic goals? Does our student population reflect the diversity mirrored in a changing global economy? Are we doing enough to put students’ needs first?
Despite the never ending barriers that lay across the path, higher education has another opportunity to focus on those improvements that are not new or particularly innovative, but can have a big impact. Sometimes big change comes from small solutions consistently implemented.
“The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.”
~ C.S. Lewis