College Board's 2017 Higher Ed Colloquium Tackles Tough Topics
College Board's 2017 Higher Ed Colloquium Tackles Tough TopicsAbby Hexter, Director, Communications
The College Board’s Higher Ed Colloquium is never a typical conference. A unique opportunity that gathers professionals and leaders in admission, enrollment, and financial aid, the Colloquium provides a forum for many tough discussions about the state of higher education in this country. Topics range from affordability to academic rigor to race relations on campus.
Colloquium 2017, held Jan. 7-9 in Delray Beach, Florida, began under the shroud of a tragedy—a deadly shooting took place at the Fort Lauderdale airport on the day before the event was scheduled to begin. Participants heard from Jim Montoya, College Board’s chief of membership, governance, and global higher education and secretary of the corporation, that the program would proceed as planned. Emotions were strong as those assembled stood in appreciation of one of their own—a Colloquium attendee who survived the shooting.
Keynoter Terrell Strayhorn from the Ohio State University then drilled down to the crux of what would become a theme throughout the conference: how we as educators and administrators can create environments on campus that support all students—regardless of race, gender, political affiliation, or sexual orientation. The ensuing discussion reflected an ongoing societal dialogue: what more can and should higher ed be doing to ensure their success?
A panel of college presidents carried this conversation forward when they opened Day Two. Jane Fernandes, president of Guilford College, Renu Khator, chancellor of the University of Houston System and president of the University of Houston, and Raynard Kington, president of Grinnell College, shared the challenges and successes they faced on their journeys to becoming college presidents and leaders in the field. Each recounted the winding road that led them to their leadership positions and harkened back to the moment they decided to dedicate their careers to education.
Fernandes introduced the notion of “brave” space, as developed by social justice educators Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens. She described it as a situation or physical place in which students and faculty are not shielded from the opposing viewpoints and conflicting opinions of others, but instead are encouraged to hear them in an informed and respectful manner. This is, after all, the essence of higher education—the ability and willingness to be open to, support, and learn from ideas and opinions on which we may not see eye to eye. As Fernandes said, “I, too, am a student; I’m still learning.”
Student leaders in the “Race Matters” session echoed this sentiment. They discussed their work to advance racial equality on their campuses by leveraging grassroots organizing tactics, protests, and partnerships among administrators, students, and faculty. While they felt their “brave” spaces were often stifling and counterproductive, each expressed gratitude for the experience and challenge of trying to implement change on a massive scale, especially on campuses rooted in tradition like Mizzou and SUNY Stony Brook.
To close the Colloquium, noted researchers Sandy Baum and Jennifer Ma led the “Education Pays” session. They shared new data and made the case for the value of a college education in an age where 61% of bachelor’s degree recipients from public and private nonprofit institutions who borrowed graduated with an average of $28,100 in debt. The conversation that followed was a practical one—how can higher ed adjust to shifting demographics and make what has become a “tough sell” to ensure students really understand and take advantage of the benefits a higher education will afford them?
Themes of inequality, race, and cultural bias rang throughout the 2017 Colloquium. These are not easy topics to talk about in casual conversation; much less in a room full of professional peers and colleagues, but one of the objectives of Colloquium is to promote thoughtful discussion in order to solve persistent problems. Participants look to the Colloquium to address these challenges and to leave with greater insight and knowledge to put into practice on their campuses.