Despite cross-partisan agreement among policymakers on higher education, conversations on college campuses are rife with hostile, polarizing and often ideological rhetoric.
Few issues enjoy the same widespread bipartisan agreement that higher education does, even amidst the unparalleled polarization we are seeing in this year's election season. Regardless of party affiliation or ideological orientation, a vast majority of leaders in this country agree that we need a more educated population and significantly more people with high-quality postsecondary credentials.
Despite the encouraging (and probably short-lived) cross-partisan agreement among policymakers of every stripe, conversations on college campuses—where the real work must be done—are rife with hostile, polarizing and often ideological rhetoric.
This rhetoric stymies creative problem solving and genuine co-ownership of problems and solutions by faculty, staff, administrators and presidents. Without a concentrated effort to boost engagement and heal divides among these stakeholders, we will not be able to address the unprecedented challenges facing higher education.
Formal education beyond high-school has never been more important for personal, community and national prosperity, yet such credentials feel increasingly out of reach to many. Too few students achieve their goals and too many leave school with too much debt. Doubts about the value of college continue to grow in the minds of prospective and current students, and colleges and universities continue to face unprecedented financial challenges.
Colleges are also seeking to serve ever-increasing numbers of students who are underprepared for success and overburdened with complicated life circumstances and responsibilities. A majority of students work at least 19 hours a week, and many—particularly those attending community colleges and public universities—are working full time while attending school. The “traditional” student who arrives at college academically prepared and with full financial support from parents or family is no longer the norm. The “new traditional” student is most often working full-time, has complicated family obligations, is an unconfident learner… or all of the above. Racial and ethnic minorities, many of whom are first-generation college students, experience these challenges in greater numbers and more acutely.
Helping more students of all backgrounds achieve meaningful credentials (which includes certificates, 2-year degrees, 4-year degrees, and specialized or advanced degrees) is an indispensable component of this country’s social contract with its people. It is also the key to the uncertain future of America’s middle class.
Colleges and universities, policymakers, employers and families are all implicated in charting a course for American higher education that will allow us, together, to rebuild and protect the American middle class. The need for diverse stakeholders to collaborate in new ways has never been more important, precisely because the challenges AND the opportunities facing higher education today are vast and unprecedented.
Unfortunately, that collaboration is rare. As my colleagues and I help diagnose and improve the climate for collaborative problem-solving within colleges and universities, we often hear the following kinds of things from administrators: “Faculty don’t want to change anything they do, and are motivated more by self-interest than by what’s best for students.” And from faculty and staff we often hear, “We are routinely disrespected and undermined by our administration, and they are more interested in their bottom line than in what’s best for students.”
Complicated histories of mistrust between faculty, staff and administrators, poor channels of communication, pressures from every direction, the very different realities facing faculty and administrators, and a host of other contextual factors conspire to erode the culture of creative collaboration that our colleges and universities need now more than ever.
The Public Agenda higher education team has worked in more than 25 states, with dozens of colleges and universities, and with thousands of faculty, staff and administrators. This experience has shown us that authentic engagement across real and perceived boundaries within institutions is both possible and necessary. This country will not be able to meet the challenges facing its higher education system unless we together find new ways to move beyond the hostile rhetoric and commit ourselves to the hard work before us. In future blogs we’ll share lessons we’ve learned from our efforts to help faculty, staff, administrators and leaders work together in new ways on behalf of better outcomes for all students. Play new the best io games list at this website now. Play new the best .io games list at this site.
This blog is the first in a series on the vital importance of authentic stakeholder engagement in higher education reform. In future blogs, we’ll elevate the voices of students and families, of innovators and employers. And we will return again and again to those who are working on the ground in colleges and universities: faculty, staff, administrators and college leaders.
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