Access, Innovation, Equality & Social Mobility

I just attended a conference on the theme, “Bridging the growing divide in [U.S.] higher education.”  Topics included, education for upward mobility and what isn’t working; educating for democracy & global competitiveness. Readers of this blog know I’ve been writing on this theme from differing angles over the past three years.

Speakers pointed to a new era in the coming 10+ years – in which families and students will sharply sort out their options for selecting a college, and a learning environment, which best suits the aspirations of the student and the labor market (which everyone agreed was changing more rapidly than the typical traditional four-year curriculum!).

There were important questions raised: Is college – as we now know it – going to remain the conventional escalator to the good life & a job?  How do we design a learning environment which offers “innovation opportunity” to students?  As colleges widen the doors of access to a more diverse student body, are they capable of catching up to the social problems which low-income students bring along (e.g: poverty, single-parent homes, un-preparedness for the academic expectations on a traditional residential campus). How well equipped are campuses to integrate students who lack “social capital” and thus find it hard to adjust?

And in 2013, in a blog, I wrote:

“…The question at hand is how far our society must go to tinker with our more traditional college majors aka English, Sociology, Anthropology, Music…add your own – so that we reduce the number of bartenders, taxi drivers, waitresses, retail clerks,,,add your own…with college degrees biding their time until they perhaps save enough money to –you guessed it – return for the MA degree they need to really start their career.”

The President of Arizona State University stated that we needed to move toward creating academic institutions with a “range of identities,” whose curriculum and learning environments support “changing pedagogies” to accommodate the needs of students from more atypical backgrounds (not just the B or A high school students now sought after).

Eleven large public research universities, committed “to the belief that every American, regardless of socioeconomic background, should have access to an affordable, high-quality college degree” have established the University Innovation Alliance at www.the UIA.org

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