The state of academia: How higher education is changing

The state of academia: How higher education is changing

2022-07-13T08:07:22-04:00February 22nd, 2022|Economy, Education, North & Central Jersey|

Writer: Joshua Andino 

2 min read February 2022Higher education across the country is changing. With a number of variables at play, from the impact of the pandemic and remote learning to the long-standing national decline of enrollment rates, academia is in the midst of an evolutionary phase that will see greater flexibility and expanding admission opportunities to non-traditional demographics. 

With schools across New Jersey reacting and reconsidering priorities as the nation slowly emerges from the stupor of the last two years, Invest: spoke to a number of presidents about their perspective on what the changing landscape of academia looks like, and how their schools are responding. 

How do you see higher education changing from the last two years moving forward?

Will Austin, President, Warren County Community College 

“We have been in great shape for some time. Eighty-six percent of our classes have already returned to campus and when compared to other community colleges nationally our enrollment has fared very well, as we were up in both Fall 2021 and Spring 2022. Most of our sister colleges are facing sharp declines and fortunately, we are not. Our growth is likely because we remained open while not experiencing a single COVID case spread on our campus.”

Mark McCormick, President, Middlesex College

“In 2021, we expanded opportunities for the college to serve the community, not just in credit-bearing courses but also in noncredit services for the community and businesses. We’re trying to focus more intently on diversity, equity and inclusion and making sure that we support our community in a way that demonstrates excellence. Another key priority was working on a new master plan for the next 10 years. We’re also undergoing a name change and rebranding. This includes a complete redesign of our website. A lot of things are changing in terms of how we present ourselves to the community.”

Margaret McMenamin, President, Union County College

“The pandemic has dominated everything we’ve done at the college. Our challenge has been to manage the safety side of the pandemic appropriately but to also continue and advance for the future. For us, 2021 was all about recovery after completely shutting down at the start of the pandemic. This fall, 55% of our classes are back in person, so we’ve accomplished progress in that regard. Now, we are thinking about the future and how higher education has been changed forever. We are learning how and will continue to learn how to adjust our operations to a COVID environment. Some things will be retained as we move forward, such as providing an instant response to incoming calls to answer questions. Higher education is moving into a very responsive environment which, at certain colleges, may lead to a 24/7 response environment. Amazon has contributed to that immediate response mindset with same-day delivery, for example. Students living in this kind of world expect that same kind of immediate service. I think that expectation will persist into the future. 

Prior to COVID, there were many courses that people didn’t believe could be done online but as people tend to do, we figured it out and, in some cases, online is just as good as in person. STEM divisions are still better suited to the in-person environment but online learning will benefit and be involved in the higher education of the future. The universities and colleges that survive in the future will be those that are able to adjust to these new changes.”

Christopher Capuano, President, Fairleigh Dickinson University

“The biggest challenge in 2021 was getting our campuses reopened after 18 months of students and employees studying and working remotely due to the pandemic.  We have all had to play the role of public health officials on our campuses to keep everyone healthy and safe, which has been our top priority.  In addition, we have learned how technology can help us reach more students and be more innovative in our delivery of courses and degree programs.”

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