Head of Smithsonian Institution prompts discussion on access to higher education and technology

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Academic leaders discuss higher education challenges during Kennesaw State symposium KENNESAW, Ga….

Georgia (Oct 10, 2013)Academic leaders discuss higher education challenges during Kennesaw State symposium

KENNESAW, Ga.  (Oct. 10, 2013) — As Kennesaw State University continued its celebration of Founders Week in honor of the university’s 50th anniversary, a panel of experts looked ahead in a lecture and symposium, “Higher Education: The Next 50 Years.”

Smithsonian Institution Secretary and former Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough delivered the keynote address on American public higher education. Clough oversees the world’s largest museum and research complex with its 19 museums and galleries, 20 libraries, nine research centers and the National Zoo.

Clough shared the history of universities in America and the role the education infrastructure plays in today’s diverse higher education landscape.

“The U.S. has an array of institutions,” said Clough, who explained that the country’s higher education system is envied around the world. “But with budget cuts, competitors in the global economy are increasing.”

Clough said American public higher education institutions should provide a learning experience customized for every student, do everything possible to allow students to gain access to higher education, embrace digital technology and expand collaborative efforts.

“We must return to the spirit of public higher education,” said Clough. “We must provide access to everyone on every economic ladder.”

University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby chaired a panel discussion on the future of higher education in Georgia and the Southeast. Panel members were Mark Becker, president, Georgia State University; Renva Watterson, interim president, Georgia Highlands College; and Arthur Dunning, professor and senior research fellow in the Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama.

“Defining the future is difficult work,” said Huckaby. “But there is a new normal, and it requires that we do better, preserving those aspects of higher education that have served us well.”

Huckaby said he believes the citizens of Georgia are best served because they have one board (the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia) that governs all 31 institutions and more deftly responsible in dealing with the challenges. Huckaby, a native Georgian, has served as USG chancellor since 2011.

 “I am committed to the notion that we don’t put aside the basic foundation of education,” said Huckaby on the need to produce a trained workforce.  “We want them trained but we also want them educated.”

With 314,000 students in the Georgia system, Huckaby said he wants to see an increase in providing opportunities for Georgians to attend college. He said that Georgia ranks No. 1 in the country because of its merit-based HOPE scholarship program, but ranks No. 50 in need-based scholarships.

With an ever-changing landscape in higher education, all of the symposium panelists spoke about the need to create greater access to education and to help increase graduation rates.

“Only about 50 percent (of college students) actually graduate in six years,” said Mark Becker, president of Georgia State University. “That’s a lot of money wasted without getting the credential.” Besides broadening the base of who participates in the college experience, he said that if prospective students are ready for college, then academic institutions should have systems in place to ensure their success.

A first-generation college graduate, Becker added that academic institutions must continue to improve learning to ready students for life. “Our old models (of teaching) won’t always work, and we need to offer robust, rich, adaptive learning environments – that’s why technology is important.” 

The explosion of online learning — from 9 percent of students taking an online course in 2002 to more than one-third of college students today — has greatly changed the landscape of higher education, Becker said.

While the on-campus experience will always be a vital part of higher education, the introduction of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and expanded technology to deliver online courses will continue to grow and help speed students toward graduation, explained Clough.

Besides the technological changes over the past decade, Arthur Dunning, professor and senior research fellow in the Education and Policy Center at The University of Alabama, said that migration in and out of Georgia has added to the enrollment growth at Georgia’s colleges and universities.

“Higher education is about human capital development,” Dunning said. “There is a great need to educate those who have been excluded because of economic imparity.”

Dunning, who spent 27 years working in higher education in Georgia, said that there are still many challenges ahead in higher education, such as under-preparation in mathematical and physical sciences, the need for more productive and strategic economic development, as well as a need to address college readiness and increase study abroad opportunities.

While many challenges await academic institutions in the future, Renva Watterson, interim president of Georgia Highlands College, finds that college students today have their own challenges, balancing work, life and educational responsibilities.

“Students don’t need to be told they need a college education. They already know that,” said Watterson. “But institutions must offer flexible scheduling, provide support services and hire faculty who ‘get it’.”  

“Access—and success—in our institutions will be our most important job,” she added.


-- Tiffany Capuano















A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu