American higher education is on the cusp of the most significant change in a century, predicts Carol Folt, the new UNC Chancellor.
“Our great American universities have been places of transformation for generations of students, and I believe have been the greatest accelerators for social and economic mobility in American society for nearly a century,” Folt said during her Dean’s Speaker Series address at UNC Kenan-Flagler.
Now higher education faces a third revolution and there is an urgency of opportunity for UNC and the role of public education.
With the explosive pace of change in knowledge and technology and wild fluctuations in the political and socioeconomic landscape, her focus will be guiding UNC as it adapts to these changes and challenges.
During the first 150 years of American universities, the experience of college education was limited to white males and offered based on religious and regional affiliations, Folt said.
The first revolution in higher education occurred 75 to 85 years ago when colleges began to become more inclusive. The number of women and minorities attending colleges started to increase, and communities intertwined with the university campuses.
A second revolution occurred after World War II, when universities linked research directly with the education of students. “When we embedded research and education, primarily in our large research universities, we made and created a culture of innovation that was to direct the future of American innovation for decades to come,” she said.
A burst in discovery education and leadership followed, and American universities became the envy of the world.
Now, Folt said, we are at the cusp of the new revolution in higher education, which began to take shape in 2001.
“Globalization has utterly changed the face of learning,” Folt said. “It’s changed everything about the questions we ask, who’s at the table with us when we’re solving problems, the opportunities and it has also significantly increased the competition for the smartest faculty and the smartest students.”
Folt outlined five steps that UNC and other universities must take to advance their leadership and continue to be crucibles of innovation.
- Always be aware of the exceptional people at the heart of our institutions. “We have to work hard to make sure we can increase the diversity and inclusivity and really match the nation in that way.”
- Continue to create extraordinary learning environments to give students skills to get inside any discipline. “When liberal arts education started, it was about breadth but now it’s about breadth and depth. Once you’ve mastered something, you can master something else."
- Think about organizational structures and how edges can be blurred between departments so students can easily work across fields.
- Create a culture of continuous improvement and partnerships.
- Define what it means to be great and public going forward.
“If we care about that public mission; if we want to retain that deep embedment within our communities; if we want to continue to serve the public good, this is the great front,” Folt said.
Jack Evans, interim dean, welcomed back Jim Dean, former dean and current UNC provost, who arranged for Folt’s talk before he moved to South Building. Folt spent time with business students in a Q&A session before her talk and after her talk received the traditional “vote of thanks” from finance professor Paige Ouimet, who was a student of Folt’s when they were both at Dartmouth College.
To view Folt’s talk and other Dean’s Speakers, visit http://www.kenan-flagler.unc.edu/news/speaker-videos.