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Degrees of Influence
The Forces Shaping the Future of Higher Education
The common thread through the Critical Issues in Higher Education Conference Series and, indeed, the work of the higher education sector as a whole, is our mission to promote social mobility and economic growth through knowledge creation and the delivery of high-quality, accessible education. Yet, for all of its contributions, many are questioning whether or not higher education remains a worthy investment. There is a sentiment gaining popularity among policymakers, the press, employers, and most importantly, students and families: higher education is irrelevant, static, and old. This year, we will examine a timely question: How can we leverage the significant national attention we’ve been receiving to adapt and prove we’re far from obsolete?
Lately, no sector of society has been shy about holding us accountable for our perceived strengths and weaknesses. Persistent scrutiny is creating new incentives, driving innovation, pushing boundaries, and challenging traditions like never before:
- Our students are becoming more diverse, and while their needs are becoming more dynamic, their outlets for expressing their concerns – both constructive and dangerous – are challenging our ability to keep up.
- The burden of cost for public higher education is shifting from the government to students, and demands for affordability decry administrative bloat.
- The value of higher education is too often based on graduates’ employability, putting vocational and liberal arts education unnecessarily at odds.
- Public safety issues including sexual assault and campus shootings put a magnifying glass on college campuses, which are in turn held largely responsible for issues that are subsets of larger societal ills.
- New educational delivery models are forcing institutions to consider whether and how to unbundle traditional credentials while maintaining quality.
Grappling with these conflicting pressures, this year’s SUNYCON will consider key questions:
- Can higher education learn from its critics to better adapt itself to a changing student population and prepare them for tomorrow’s social, political, economic, and technological landscape?
- Is it possible to use widespread local, national, and international attention on the sector as a positive force for realizing transformational change?
- In the face of these converging pressures, can higher education remain anchored to its public mission?
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