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HomePolicyCollege, University Presidents Promote 'Learners First' Higher Ed Reform

College, University Presidents Promote ‘Learners First’ Higher Ed Reform


With long-standing issues such as widening racial and economic inequality and outdated course offerings being amplified by the pandemic, US colleges and universities are being called upon to reassess their policies and practices.

In response to this urgent necessity, the Presidents Forum, a nonprofit organization consisting of college and university presidents, chancellors, and stakeholders, has revealed a bold new framework for educational reform to address these issues and accommodate modern learners.

Citing the remote learning experiences of universities and community colleges, the Forum has urged schools to rework their structures now to better serve their students and meet their changing needs.

The Forum’s Learners First Framework hinges on 10 critical areas. These include embracing lifelong learning, transparency in how to navigate educational opportunities and their return on investment, employing cultures of service, outcome-centered innovation, and transforming the broken economic model at the heart of today’s educational system.

Under these guiding principles, institutions should create systems that acknowledge forms of learning outside traditional education.

The Forum strongly recommends the development of flexible offerings to meet an increasing variety of student needs, declaring that the transition from a school-based to a student-based model must take place now, meaning students have greater control of the time and the pace of learning.

Putting Learners First

Chancellor of California Community Colleges Eloy Ortiz Oakley said, “We can no longer be content with simply acknowledging changes in student demographics. A new generation of students has arrived, and institutions are facing a reckoning on our ability to meet their needs in an increasingly complex society and economy.” 

Recovery from the pandemic must take place alongside the desire to break from the challenges that have since plagued the educational system. Oakley mentioned that higher education should erase the presence of systemic racism in education and strive for a future with better “higher education access, equity, and workforce outcomes.”

The Presidents Forum called on academic institutions to prioritize students’ needs, especially in unique and unprecedented situations. Students now have a range of experiences, responsibilities, constraints, and plans for the future. Compared to the conventional student profile, 37 percent of learners are now older than 25 years old, 24 percent are parents, and 64 percent are working either full-time or part-time. In the face of such diversity, schools cannot afford to be stagnant.

“The events of this past year have brought a heightened sense of urgency to our mission to serve non-traditional, underserved, and vulnerable learners, and to provide the flexibility and support to give students resilience during this challenging time,” said Scott Pulsipher, the President of Western Governors University and Chairman of the Presidents Forum.

To build this resiliency, Pulsipher asserted that institutions are required to “design around the needs of students and to equip learners with the skills which are essential for workplace success.” The Learners First framework is the right tool to create a more “sustainable and relevant future for higher education,” he added.

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