The Curry School is proud to have contributed to the successful careers of a number of men and women at the helm of other colleges and universities. Their leadership is helping to ensure that adult students—regardless of their age, location, or life circumstances – have access to the high quality education they need.
Eight alumni higher ed leaders have graciously agreed to speak with Curry magazine about the challenges facing higher education, the evolving needs of their student-customers, and the innovations their institutions will adopt to remain competitive.
What are the most significant changes have you have observed over your years working in higher education administration regarding the products and services demanded by students?
President, Webster University
The growing diversity of Webster students (as an example) ranges from traditional age residential undergraduates to working adults studying at sites across the United States to those in active military service taking online classes while deployed overseas. Internationally, they include undergraduate and graduate students completing degrees at our residential campuses in Europe and Asia and traveling cohort groups of students who complete global degrees at five international sites in eleven months. As a result, the evolving products and services they most need and demand entail 24-hour online access to information and support regarding academic programs, advising, financial aid, career services, and so on.
President, James Madison University
Students at JMU expect a fulfilling collegiate experience in addition to a degree. As costs to the family have risen, students are more concerned about the value of their education and as the job market has become more challenging students have become more interested in internships and alumni contacts to improve their competitiveness in the market.
President, Susquehanna University
My observation is that we live in a highly competitive world and that our campuses are comprised of very bright people who are constantly trying to strengthen and improve the educational experiences of our students. The past 20 years have been in a golden era with regard to capital construction. Our campuses, of all types have improved facilities for teaching and learning both in and outside the classroom. I don’t know that I would say that these have been demanded by students but to be sure they have been attractive to students, just as have been expansions and improvements in curricula, faculty-student research collaborations, service learning, internships, and study away opportunities. There is real competition in higher education, which has significantly fueled these improvements.
President, Blue Ridge Community College
I don’t believe students have been asking for new or different products or services over the years, but I
do believe their needs for support services have increased. Despite many notable exceptions, students generally appear to me to have become less directed and less motivated than they once were. We need to redouble our efforts at helping students see the linkages between their education and their future; between the course work they engage in and their innate passion for the work they will do for the rest of their lives. Without a clear understanding of that connection, I believe students can’t discover the desire for lifelong learning that many from earlier generations take for granted.
President, Virginia Intermont College
I began my career in higher education in 1978. I think one of the greatest changes since then is the shift to viewing students and their parents as customers, which I see as a good thing. There is also a greater expectation from students that programs be relevant to societal and global issues and that services be environmentally responsible. Again, these are changes for the better.
Chancellor, American InterContinental University
Students have become increasingly pragmatic and career oriented. Irrespective of academic discipline. Unless they are planning to attend graduate school immediately upon completing undergraduate study, students are interested in products and services that will help them bridge the gap between college and the workplace and prepare them for long-term career advancement. This has resulted in a growing demand for internship opportunities, placement assistance, networking arrangements, and career- related alumni services, as well as calls for greater attention to connecting theory and practice in the curriculum.
Executive Director, New College Institute
The demand for products and services has increased at traditional institutions, and institutions feel they must respond because of the competition for students. However, many students simply want a degree without all of the trimmings. This is especially true for older adults. Thus, there is a niche for offering this type of quality education.
Ben E. Hancock
President, Methodist University
Many students and their families are more knowledgeable about the higher education marketplace. They have looked closely at more institutions and are consumer oriented in terms of “best value” for their limited resources. Customer service is very important to students, and they expect their campus to provide greater ease in gaining access to services. “One stop shopping” is a common phrase used to describe this expectation. Colleges and universities like Methodist have responded by being more student centered in their philosophy and operations.
Question 2: What are the primary challenges ahead for higher education?
Question 3: What strategies are being considered by your institution for dealing with the demand to increase the number of Americans with college degrees in a struggling economy with limited public funding?