Leading the Way: Higher Education in the 21st Century | Teachers College Columbia University

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Leading the Way: Higher Education in the 21st Century

Academic Festival 2013 Session

“What’s the biggest challenge facing higher education?”

That was the central question posed by TC President Susan Fuhrman to a panel of TC graduates who serve as college or university presidents.

For Joel Bloom (Ed.D. ’78), President of New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), the answer was: “Encouraging more pre-college students to engage in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.” At NJIT, addressing that challenge has entailed sowing the seeds in high schools and even elementary and middle schools in the university’s home community of Newark and Essex County. Each year, he said, about 150 students enroll at NJIT as a direct result of these local programs.

Regina Peruggi (Ed.D. ’91), President of Kingsborough Community College, part of the City University of New York, similarly flagged the importance of alignment with K-12 schools.

“Unless something happens with the high schools, thousands of students are coming out without the skills they need to do college work,” said Peruggi, whose institution serves students from a wide range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. “There’s a real problem arising where you could not have the capacity to open the doors for thousands who want to get in and get skills to be successful. And then you’ll end up with a two-tiered society.”

Joseph Bertolino (Ed.D. ’03), in his first year as president of Lyndon State, the only college in a 50-mile radius in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, said his challenge is more about convincing high school students and their families that Lyndon State is aligned with their needs. “We’re a small rural college, the only game in town,” he said, with a high proportion of first-in-family students. “We need to be reassuring folks that college education is still valuable.”

21st century school leadership


To that end, schools certainly need to position themselves as cutting-edge by offering co-curricular activities, joint volunteering, clinical work and, above all, high-tech resources, including distance learning and MOOCs, or “massive open online courses.” But the speakers also cautioned that technology’s value extends only so far.

“We do a lot of distance learning, but the real education goes on on campus,” Bloom said. “College goes beyond technology. It’s the ability to communicate, interpersonal relations, being part of a learning community, working as a team.”

Marcia Keizs (Ed.D. ’84), President of York College (also part of the CUNY system), said that brick-and-mortar college learning is particularly important for students from marginalized backgrounds. “They need connection to the institution and quality face time with faculty who are going to mentor them up,” Keizs said. “Especially inner city students who have been failed – we need to bring them into these traditions.”

Published Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2013