“A university should be a place of light, of liberty, and of learning.” The evolution of American Higher Education is a complicated romance with many dimensions. Higher education is a central element in the emergence and well-being of the nation. A close analysis of the evolution of higher education in the U.S. reveals strategic junctions and times of significant challenges. In each era, academic institutions were responsive, action was taken, and both higher education and the nation’s well-being were strengthened. The time has come for a “new paradigm for higher education as a catalyst for regional transformation.” The goal of regional transformation is to achieve ongoing regional economic growth and prosperity. This is done through enhancing a sense of identity and forming a collaborative framework.
Our nation and the communities we serve are facing an almost perfect storm. We are experiencing a rapid shift from an economy of traditional industrial manufacturing, based on natural resources and labor, to an economy of knowledge, driven by innovation and entrepreneurship; further complicated by intense global competitiveness and uncertainty. Despite the many economic challenges, I see the future in abundance. It is our challenge and obligation to offer hope, be forward looking, optimistic and work toward a future in abundance. A necessary condition is that higher education must embrace a leadership role in regional transformation. A Triple Helix framework includes a university/campus, businesses, and governments collaborating together to assure economic development.
We will achieve competitiveness through a high concentration of knowledge, skills, innovation and entrepreneurship capacity. Academic leadership, courage, humility and willingness to maximize opportunities are vital to this paradigm shift.
This shift will require a new model of leadership, one that is entrepreneurial. A key element in accomplishing this task and assuring a positive outcome is reevaluating the role of regional campuses. We need to reaffirm our commitment to being ‘stewards of place’ and not only to fulfill a responsibility to graduate world class students. We have a clear and emerging role in serving as a leader and partner in regional transformation. An AASCU survey of Presidents and Chancellors found fewer than half are closely linked to their communities; regional transformation is simply not a strategic priority. This must change; regional transformation must be at the forefront of strategic planning for universities and embraced by academic leaders.
Although regional transformation is not a core value that has traditionally been integrated into our institutions, it is now time for a paradigm shift which will embrace this role in addition to academic excellence and student success. Being an academic leader allows the opportunity for shaping discourse around the meaning of ‘steward of place.’ Universities that have leadership that believes in a “public good” and an intentional civic responsibility to the “American dream” and to better the lives of all in the region / state that university serves will be a leading partner in regional transformation. That requires the leadership of the university, business, government and non profit leaders to work in a collaborative framework. The University has many resources to “bring to the table.” That includes regional partners, faculty, staff, students, and alumni who working together will cultivate a regional focus on transformation. This paradigm shift require a new type of academic leader. One who can build a coalition of government, non-profit, business/industry, and educational leaders. That is higher educations obligation to the nation!
Time is of the essence in order to be competitive in an ever evolving world, but with values and leadership, success is attainable. Higher education is one of the most valuable institutions contributing to our well-being as individuals, a society, a nation and a global community. We are facing serious challenges and unique opportunities to transform our role, so we continue to be relevant and current, to provide a public good. Responding to these challenges will allow us to follow the vision of Benjamin Disraeli who said: “A university should be a place of light, of liberty, and of learning.”