May 27, 2021 at 5:00 am ET
There is likely to be a consistent theme in most commencement addresses this year: reflection. Keynote speakers will share their thoughts with students about a tumultuous period in higher education. But as college and university leaders ask students to reflect, it’s a good opportunity for leaders in these institutions to do some searching of their own.
Before the pandemic, innovation could be a fraught concept in postsecondary education, synonymous with change to institutions that are proud of their traditions. Now, due to the adoption of technology’s being a requirement for survival over the past year, discussing
“innovation” is a recurring theme among the industry’s prognosticators — advocates and detractors alike. But the term’s liberal application to describe last year’s sudden, albeit essential, changes does not suggest a deliberate shift by all leaders to move from a system that’s failed.
For many students, the college experience is all too similar: fixed, rigid and designed for the convenience of the institution, not the modern-day learner. To accommodate these learners, institutions have offered technology to modify the traditional four-year experience. Using technology, however, isn’t the same as innovation. Not surprisingly, learners are demanding — and deserve — something better.
When we think of innovation in education, we start with a culture of individualized learning that helps all students discover, develop and deploy their unique aptitudes and gifts. A true culture of innovation also recognizes the importance of entrepreneurship among faculty and administrators, particularly how they can all be empowered to remove obstacles that delay or hinder experimentation.
As higher-education leaders reflect on applying these principles to advance their mission and help the diverse learners they serve, these are some critical questions that I think all institutions need to consider if they are to adopt a culture that is committed to innovation:
Over the past year, it has become cliché to point out that there is simply no going back to the status quo. But that doesn’t mean schools will inevitably move forward – campus leaders ought to be concerned about standing still. Today’s modern-day learner isn’t going anywhere. The challenge is not just preparing for the reopening of campuses in the fall, but also the reflection necessary to embrace a culture of innovation that will lead to improved opportunities for every learner.
Ryan Stowers is executive director of the Charles Koch Foundation.
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