Higher ed should not go back to normal--instead, it should use the pandemic's lessons to innovate and reinvent

9 ways to define higher ed’s future by ‘and’ instead of ‘either/or’

Higher ed should not go back to normal--instead, it should use the pandemic's lessons to innovate and reinvent

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pressures faced by institutions of higher education on aspects ranging from shifting demographics and the “enrollment cliff,” and considerations of cost, student debt and institutional fiscal stability, to issues related to the value of a degree and the ability of higher education institutions to adequately prepare graduates for employment.

Most of these issues are not new and do need to be addressed effectively and rapidly if higher ed is to maintain its ability to serve as a beacon of opportunity and social mobility.  While the past two decades have seen significant mission creep and it is clear that no institution can be “all things to all people,” there is a misconception that all decisions related to the future have to be on an “either/or” basis rather than in attempting to embrace options enhance flexibility.

Too often, false dichotomies are set up between choices that do not have to be made and take on a life of their own, resulting in loss of focus on students and their future.  As institutions of higher education prepare for the start of a new academic year, here are 9 such examples, many of which have become urban myths and all of which need to be re-envisioned as we emerge from the pandemic ensuring that the focus is on serving students, and society, decreasing inequities and increasing access, rather than clinging to elitism or false perceptions.

1. Access and excellence: Perhaps the greatest myth in academia is that enhancing access automatically results in a loss in rigor and excellence. Unfortunately, metrics used in ranking perpetuate this myth through increased focus on incoming measures of quality such as SAT/ACT scores, rank in class, and GPA, all of which are more a means of deselecting students for admission than a true test of inherent ability. Acknowledging that a basic level of preparation is essential for success, far more can be done to enhance opportunities for access to the highest levels of excellence in teaching and learning, recognizing that what is done after a student enters our halls is far more impactful than the metrics by which they were admitted.

Universities such as the University of Texas at Arlington, Arizona State University, and the University of Central Florida have all shown that it is possible to increase access and enrollment without decreases in student success. In fact, all three, and other similar institutions, have shown increases in graduation rates, and, as importantly, degree completion, along with increases in national reputation related to impact and social mobility.

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