At Commencement in May, amid the excitement of graduates and their families, I was pleased to note that “First Lady Emerita” Sara Bernice Moseley attended her 60th Austin College graduation ceremonies. What an achievement! That recognition turned bittersweet in mid-July as we mourned Mrs. Moseley’s passing.
She was such a significant figure in the life of Austin College and in shaping the ideals and spirit of campus life today. Personally, I appreciated her as a model of grace, leadership, and savvy. She will be greatly missed but her tremendous legacy will live on.
Always concerned for the future of Austin College, Sara Bernice was pleased to watch the College reach some very significant milestones as we reach the end of the planning timeline established in our current strategic plan “Roots and Branches.” Kangaroos everywhere have much to be proud of: the opening of the IDEA Center, new state-of-the-art student housing, a firmer financial foundation, a record number of newly established scholarships, a successful “Thinking Green” campus commitment to sustainability, record numbers of admission applications, and much more.
And as we now turn toward our next round of strategic planning, two interconnected questions face us:
- What kind of liberal arts education will our students need to serve and lead in a digitally connected, globally linked, and rapidly changing world?
- What sustainable business model will allow us to provide this education to talented and deserving young people?
Quality must continue to define an Austin College education. This means that student learning—especially the kind of sophisticated, messy, hands-on, higher-order learning that is the hallmark of a liberating education—will remain at the core of our planning. The traditions that characterize this form of education must continue to play a role in our thinking. Those traditions have been developed and sustained for good reasons. But we also recognize that the methods and the aims of liberal arts education cannot remain stuck in the last century. New technologies always have shaped and changed both the dissemination and the actual creation of knowledge—from the development of the alphabet to the printing press, to voice recording devices, to the laptop on which I compose these words.
Our graduates must be prepared to lead in their own generation. That means they must come to know themselves and their world and must understand how knowledge is constructed and challenged. And, they must know how to communicate with audiences, actual and virtual, using the most current and compelling techniques. This is a tall order for any curriculum. It requires imagination and flexibility, technological savvy as well as face-to-face interaction with faculty and each other. The opportunity to live in shared community and have access to hands-on opportunities and learning adventures must remain at our core even as we open new avenues for student growth and learning.
Our challenge in this cycle of planning will be to craft a living and learning educational template that guides students from where they actually begin as freshmen toward the ideal of the Austin College graduate as someone who is prepared to offer something of genuine value to the world. And we want the template to be robust enough to serve as a guide for future development and leadership throughout life.
That work before us is made all the more complicated by the fact that the “business” of higher education has reached a tipping point. As is now crystal clear, our “industry” has reached its price-point ceiling. The vast majority of families are simply unable to bear even the highly subsidized cost of private higher education. And those families who might be able to stretch for this, no longer believe that the good that accrues for their sons or daughters outweighs the combined weight of debt and opportunity costs required to attain it.
Good planning will take the combined wisdom of Kangaroo Nation. We won’t all play the same role, but we each will play a role. As we look for a shared vision, we will have to be willing to bend in our assumptions, to recognize that the common good can sometimes trump individual preferences or traditions, and to see the warm light of shared values even in the midst of differing opinions. We will have to work faster than many of us are used to and more slowly than some of us may prefer.
We will set up a planning webpage in September, and I encourage you to participate in the conversation there. We need you to serve as guides and as standard bearers for the value of an Austin College education.
Marjorie Hass, President