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The Keys to Leadership in Higher Education | U.S. News Live

In order to address declining confidence in a college degree, rising debt and other issues on college campuses, higher education leaders should look holistically at their students needs and teach students the importance of civil debate, experts convened at U.S. News & World Report’s “The Evolution of Leadership: Education” said.

And those leaders must be authentic, trustworthy, honest, hard-working, ethical and loyal according to a U.S. News – Harris Poll survey released at the event. A separate U.S. News – Harris Poll survey found that nearly 60% of respondents said college and university leaders are failing students.

“I think it’s important to be authentic,” James Kvaal, under secretary of Education at the U.S. Department of Education, told attendees during the opening session. “And I think we have this cultural idea of a leader, almost like military general who gives orders and gives speeches. Really, there’s all kinds of leaders. There are a lot of effective leaders who are introverts and very emotionally attuned. So you need to be clear about what you care about, and meet and connect with people in a way that’s authentic to you.”

Higher education leaders and stakeholders convened Dec. 12 at the U.S. News & World Report’s event to discuss the role of leadership as colleges grapple with issues such as declining confidence in a college degree, rising debt, political division on campuses, the end of race-conscious admissions and the ongoing effect of the coronavirus pandemic on students’ learning and mental health.

Here are three key takeaways from the conversation, which also included a panel discussion and fireside chat:

  • Colleges should look holistically at their students’ needs.
  • Postsecondary credentials should prepare students for graduation and the workforce.
  • Teaching students civil debate and dialogue is important.

Colleges Should Look Holistically at Their Students’ Needs

Fifteen to 20 years ago, there was still a “look to your left, look to your right, one of these people isn’t going to make it” mindset, suggesting that high college student failure rates was a sign of academic rigor, Kvaal said. But now, he said, “I think we are shifting toward believing that all students can master college-level work. We as educators have a responsibility to help them.”

There’s been “a culture change around taking responsibility over student success,” Kvaal adds. “And not thinking of higher ed as a cafeteria, and if you’re college material, you’ll figure it out.”

Many colleges have put accessibility and inclusivity at the forefront of their mission to help with student success, which includes creating support services to meet students’ needs. California State University, for instance, offers food pantries, clothes banks and mental health professionals on campus, among other services.

Colleges need to understand the students they serve in order to provide support services, including what neighborhood they are from, what languages they speak, how they learn or whether they are first-generation college students, Mildred García, chancellor of the California State University system, said during a panel discussion.

“It’s looking at it holistically, working with your partners and understanding our universities are stewards of place,” she said. “We are part of the community. We are part of all of our communities, regardless of their backgrounds.”

Postsecondary Credentials Should Prepare Students for Graduation and the Workforce

The median weekly earnings for a worker in the U.S. with a bachelor’s degree is $1,432, compared with $853 for those who have only a high school diploma, according to 2022 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The evidence is you earn $1 million dollars in your lifetime if you have a bachelor’s degree,” said opening session panelist John B. King Jr., chancellor of the State University of New York. “We need to do more to make the case to people that postsecondary education can unlock economic opportunities for them. And if we are honest, as a sector, we have to get better at having students see those connections while they are with us.”

His goal, for instance, is to make sure every SUNY undergraduate has an internship experience.

“So they are thinking about work and what work will be like. Maybe the internship is terrible and you decide you never want to work at that place, but that’s a learning experience, too,” King said.

First-generation college students are also first-generation professionals, “so they don’t know anything about schmoozing at a cocktail party, preparing for an interview or dressing the right way for professional interaction,” Montclair State president Jonathan Koppell said during the closing fireside chat.

“So to the extent you can build that into the process, I think it’s more useful to the student,” he adds.

Teaching Students Civil Debate and Dialogue Is Important

Many protests have erupted on college campuses in recent months in response to the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, which Rabbi Ari Berman, president of Yeshiva University in New York, referred to as the “most divisive issue in recent American history. ”

“College presidents have told me that they’ve never seen this on their college campuses before,” he said. “More than ‘Me Too,’ more than George Floyd, because this is the first time that students were against each other. In all the other situations, all the students rallied on the same side.”

Two-thirds of Americans say they believe campuses should uphold free speech even if some deem the language deplorable, according to the U.S. News-Harris Poll survey.

“Free speech, free inquiry is a core value of higher education,” Kvaal said. “But we have a fundamental responsibility to keep our students safe and we need to make sure that we are accomplishing that responsibility.”

King said that for leaders, “this is a moment for moral courage and moral clarity.”

“Moral courage in condemning antisemitism and taking on issues of antisemitism on campus, moral courage in responding to the Supreme Court’s very problematic decision about race-conscious admissions,” he said. “And saying we aren’t going to abandon our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Instead, we are going to find new ways to ensure our student body, our faculty and our leadership are diverse.”

Koppell said one of the consequences of students being “cloistered” for years during the pandemic is that they didn’t develop the conflict resolution skills that are “critical.”

“Those skills of how do you deal with disagreement, it deals with international affairs, but it deals with interpersonal relations as well,” like handling a roommate conflict, he said.

In times of conflict, “we must make sure that we teach students how to have civil debates and dialogue and move away and still say, ‘Hey, ‘I’m sorry, I disagree,'” García said. “We must teach our students to uphold the democracy in a way that’s really fractured. We are a university laboratory where students can come and experiment and learn. They also have to learn how to live in a civil democracy.”

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Nathan is an experienced journalist. He's covered a broad spectrum of topics, including politics, culture, and human interest stories, always aiming to engage and inform his audience. Nathan has a degree in Journalism and upholds the highest standards of integrity and accuracy in his work.

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