At a forum Tuesday in Washington D.C., President Joseph E. Aoun said higher education must keep up its social compact with Americans and continue to innovate to meet the needs of students.
"...Among the top findings were that Americans strongly value higher education and that there are more opportunities today to achieve a college education than in past generations. However, while respondents believe the U.S. is a global leader in higher education, they said greater investments are needed to maintain that standing. They also acknowledged there are significant obstacles making it harder to achieve a college degree today, and they called for greater innovation to ensure the U.S. remains at the forefront of higher education in the world.
In particular, Aoun noted that survey participants called for more flexibility, online/hybrid education options and opportunities for experiential learning, entrepreneurship and global experiences. He also pointed to respondents’ concerns of rising costs, global competition, students finding jobs after graduation and graduates today having fewer opportunities than their parents.
However, Aoun cited an “explosion of innovation” in higher education that is aimed at addressing these concerns, including shortening the path to degree and advancements in how academic courses are assessed.
Aoun has been a national leader on issues critical to higher education. He is board chair of the American Council on Education and a member of an academic advisory council that reports directly to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
The event also featured a panel discussion moderated by David Leonhardt, the Washington bureau chief of The New York Times. Panelists comprised: Molly Broad; president of the American Council on Education; Michael Horn, co-founder of Innosight Institute; Daphne Koller, co-founder of Coursera; U.S. Congressman George Miller, senior Democratic member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee; John Sexton, president of New York University; and Prateek Tandon, an economist at the World Bank.
The engaging panel discussion shifted between a range of topics, from the cost of higher education to quantifying the impact of a college education. Leonhardt said that while the discussion focused largely on the ways to improve higher education in America, the system largely works very well and “remains the envy of the world.” He also said it produces a “phenomenally broad return,” citing the current 3.8 percent unemployment rate for college graduates, well below the national average.
However, Leonhardt pointed to statistics that show only half of those who enter college earn degrees, as well as the gap in access to higher education based on economic status.