I just returned from Princeton where LaSalle University did an outstanding job hosting the 2011 Mid Atlantic Regional Meeting with the theme of “Sparking a Revolution: Conversations in Continuing Education.” The theme certainly resonated throughout the conference in the keynotes and concurrent sessions. Congratulations to the planning committee and to LaSalle University for a great conference.
I came home from the conference pumped about exploring news ways of increasing access to higher education and providing multiple pathways to degree completion. Eve Mandel, Curator of Education at the Historical Society of Princeton, provided an excellent metaphor for my re-invigoration in finding new pathways and expanding access to higher education. She shared with us that every graduating class from Princeton gives a gift to the university. Often that gift is ivy, and as I walked through the campus, the beautiful and majestic buildings were decorated with ivy with the graduating class years proudly displayed. One class in the 1970s did something a little different; their gift was to open the gates that separated the Princeton campus from the town. There it is, my call to action: as a field, as an association and as a leader of a professional and continuing education unit, my responsibility is to literally and figuratively open the gates and provide opportunity and access to the promise that education provides.
What really put the spark in my thinking was the last keynote. Peter Smith, a long time advocate for providing access to higher education and his latest book, Harnessing America’s Wasted Talent, provided insights in how higher education can assist students to graduation.
Peter’s comments about the many ways in which students can validate their learning as well as the other avenues in which they can pursue their studies challenged me to look at the possibilities I have in our own adult degree program.
While I’ve read DIY U by Anya Kamenetz in which she outlines the various paths adult students can take for degree completion, I only philosophized how that might be done in our program. If I am serious about opening the gates, I need to move beyond philosophizing and move to action.
The action I will be taking (of course this includes the support of our great staff at JMU) will be establishing a catalog of the various ways students can demonstrate learning. This will include looking at such things as StraighterLine, open courseware, ICAL, ACE, military training and learning experiences, and other new and alternative ways for students to document their learning.
The key for me will be to concentrate on learning outcomes and to work with faculty and staff across campus in assuring that students are meeting the learning outcomes even though they may be taking alternative routes.
In my mind, the only response to the challenge of increasing the number of people in our state and in our county that have a degree is by opening the gates of higher education. That is my call to action.