The University Record, October 16, 2000

Education alumni discuss higher ed challenges, future perspectives

By Joel Seguine
News and Information Services

Three alumni of the School of Education who have distinguished themselves in higher education gathered around a table in the School’s Schorling Auditorium last month for a panel discussion and what amounted to an international call-in show.

The subject for the afternoon was “Higher Education Vistas: Contemporary Challenges and Future Perspectives.” The three alumni were Dolores Cross, president of Morris Brown College in Atlanta; Paul Lingenfelter, executive director of the State Higher Education Executive Officers; and Theodore “Ted” Marchese, executive editor of Change, a magazine aimed at higher education professionals, and also former vice president of the American Association for Higher Education. The questions were posed by Sylvia Hurtado, director of the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education (CSHPE), members of an audience present in the auditorium and those listening around the world over the Internet in the CSHPE’s inaugural Webcast.

The panel was first asked to name the most significant challenge each saw facing higher education in the next five years.

Cross chose getting support for institutions that seek to serve underserved students, looking beyond government and individuals to corporations and foundations. “Right now I see fewer people willing to give their money and less attention being given to the needs of these students by policy-makers at the state and federal levels,” she said. Lingenfelter focused on improving the quality of teaching across the educational spectrum to ensure that students are prepared for the next level. “Even though it’s a cliche,” he said, “I’ll repeat it anyway because it’s still true. It is no longer acceptable to merely move students through the educational system, and that includes higher education.” Marchese sees a significant challenge in finding a new dynamic value, a role for higher education in the new economy while maintaining the best traditional values. “Right now we’re faced with an environment that’s competitive, fast-paced, and I’m concerned we may be losing a grip on the traditional values that have sustained higher education,” Marchese said.

The panel then tackled the question of the major institutional transformations that need to occur to keep ahead of the challenges. Lingenfelter pointed out that in some areas, diversity for instance, the private corporate sector may be ahead of higher education. “I’m also concerned that we are losing overall participation in higher education as compared with other countries. The United States used to be first, now we’re fourth,” he said. “And that trend is related to reduced access to opportunities for underserved students,” he added. Cross disagreed with Lingenfelter’s first point, saying that while the corporate world may have opportunities for advancement for women and minorities, “much of it is in the lower or entry level jobs. We in higher education may have a common diversity agenda with the corporate world, but in that sphere it is often more razzle-dazzle than substance,” Cross opined.

Marchese weighed in with some of his experiences with various institutions working toward transformations of their cultures. “The best examples are professional schools—medical, business—that are adapting to changing markets,” he said. “I think the term may emphasize speed too much. I also find admirable the persistent, long-term approach to transformation,” Marchese said. Cross added that transformation calls for a shared vision within an institution, something that can be very difficult to achieve. “That’s a transformation in itself,” she declared.

Online distance education also was discussed, with the first online question asking about setting policy standards for Web-based education, and a related one from another cyber-participant on how to separate the wheat from the chaff in online course offerings. The panel members agreed that both are hot issues and that “buyer beware” is still the watchword in much of online education.