Northeastern hosts discussion of the future of higher ed

On Tuesday, November 27,  NEC member Northeastern University teamed with the Brookings Institute to host a discussion entitled “Innovation Imperative: The Future of Higher Education.” The forum began with a presentation of the results of a public opinion survey conducted by Northeastern University regarding the public’s perception of higher education in America, followed by a discussion about those issues with some of higher education’s leading thinkers. Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun, who sits on the NEC’s Board of Directors, gave opening remarks highlighting the leadership America has shown in higher education and the need for America to continue to innovate in order to maintain this leadership. Panelists included:

  • Molly Broad, President of the American Council on Education (ACE)
  • Daphne Koller, CEO of Coursera,
  • Representative George Miller (D-CA), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce
  • Michael Horn, Director of Innosight Institute
  • David Leonhardt, Washington Bureau Chief for The New York Times
  • Edward Reilly, CEO of FTI Strategic Communications
  • John Sexton, President of New York University
  • Prateek Tandon, of the World Bank
  •  Darrell West of the Brookings Institute

The survey found that Americans continue to consider higher education very worthwhile. The results also indicated that Americans believe that the challenges involved in continuing education must be addressed in order to increase access and reduce costs for students, institutions and government. With these opinions in mind, the panel discussed innovative ideas that they believed could help higher education serve our population into the future.

Many of the panelists made a distinction between two categories of students; those who are being served by the traditional higher education system, and those that are not for many varied reasons including costs and program structure. According to the panel, the first group can be better served by reducing their costs and increasing their understanding of the costs of higher education, increasing their access to unique opportunities, improving their preparedness to enter a professional field, and allowing students more flexibility to move at their own pace. The second category of students–those who are not benefiting from the traditional higher education system–must be given opportunities for higher education as well. Panelists said that MOOCs (massive open online courses), online programs and for-profit institutions were beginning to address some of these needs (and clearly showing that there is a need). The panelists urged that we must continue to develop alternative options for these non-traditional students while also maintaining high standards for the education provided.  Panelists agreed higher education has been evolving and will continue to change quickly, raising many issues around addressing the needs of prospective learners.

The discussion covered many topics and possible approaches and detailed numerous challenges. Representative Miller said that the government and consumers must demand increased accountability while also embracing new learning methods. He also said that determining appropriate assessment methods must not define the process through which learning happens, in order to allow for innovation.

Panelists also discussed the challenging of placing a value on learning and suggested that value is often unclear to prospective students and noted that it is difficult to equate the value of at traditional degree program to some of the newer alternative educational programs.  The panel also discussed the need to increase internship, mentoring and apprenticeship opportunities. President Aoun gave closing remarks, urging the higher education community to continue this important conversation.

Watch the Brookings event.

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