Innovation Key to Thriving In Higher Education's "Perfect Storm"

President Miyares shares his vision for UMUC at global Town Hall.

January 9, 2013

Citing what he termed a "revolution in higher education," UMUC President Javier Miyares told a global town hall meeting January 8 that to survive and thrive, the university must "innovate, innovate, innovate."

The year 2013 "will set the course of UMUC for a generation to come," he said.  

January 8 Town Hall broadcast

UMUC's first Town Hall of 2013 was broadcast live via WebEx, allowing faculty and staff worldwide to participate.

Speaking to faculty, staff and students at UMUC's Academic Center at Largo, in Maryland, and watched on a webinar across the United States, as well as in Europe and Asia, Miyares talked about the coming disruptive impact of technology on higher education.

Yes, UMUC pioneered online education, but it cannot rest on that achievement, he said. Other universities, even the Ivy League, are now embracing online models. 

But online education "was simply the beginning," he said. "Ten, fifteen years from now online education will be seen as a critical pivot point, but what we do today will seem primitive."

The university should not seek a final way to provide education, he said.  

"The day we think we have arrived at a model is the day we are doomed. Change is constant and you have to adjust to it."

Higher education is "facing a perfect storm," he said. Enrollments are leveling off or falling. State support is shrinking in many areas of the country while tuition increases have become unsustainable. More students come from families with limited incomes. There is now more student loan debt than credit card debt in America. So many students are overwhelmed with debt they question whether the cost of learning justifies the return in higher salaries.

Many of UMUC's direct competitors—for-profit universities aimed at adult learners—are seeing steep declines in enrollment.

"In today's world, a combination of access, cost and quality represents the holy grail of higher education," he said. 

The need for higher education has never been greater, he said. The White House has set a goal that 55 percent of adults will have a college degree. The state of Maryland is counting on UMUC to expand its student population to meet that goal.

The university should be open to anyone who "wants to take a shot at higher education," he said. "UMUC will be the global leader in offering working adults access to high quality education at a low tuition rate. That is needed; that is what is expected of UMUC; that is where UMUC can prosper."

But attracting more students is only one way to expand, he said. Just as important is retaining enrolled students until they graduate. And that, he said, will mean radical changes to improve teaching methods.

Faculty can no longer write off those students who are trying but not succeeding, he said. Instead, we must ask, "What am I doing wrong that you cannot succeed?" That does not mean standards should be lowered, he said. It does mean that teaching practices must be improved.

Evidence-based research is developing technology to improve the learning process, he said, and UMUC must be in the forefront of embracing it so that a greater number of students succeed.    

In addition, he said, the university must constantly review its programs to ensure it is offering an education that is in demand by employers. For example, UMUC's undergraduate and graduate programs in cybersecurity are preparing students for employers begging for qualified personnel.

"If we don't use our built-in advantage of a culture of 60 years of innovation, then shame on us," he said. "I am not afraid of making mistakes. I believe if we don't take risks we will not succeed." 

Disruptive technology has created scary times for higher education, he said. But it also is creating opportunities.

"If anyone tells you they know what higher education will look like in 10 years, they are either lying or they are crazy," he said. "Nobody knows. It will be institutions like us that will be developing that future. I find that very exciting."