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The Challenge of Higher Education Published: Sunday, September 17, 2000 By: Dr. Manuel Angel Morales

Four core assumptions reflect the context in which higher education operates, now and in the future: (1) conditions and conventions within the work setting are changing, (2) they are changing faster than they have changed in the past, (3) changes will continue to rapidly occur as we progress into the 21st century, (4) sensitivity to these changes is imperative and implications for universities must be strategically thought and discussed.

More than any previous point in history, the perception and reality of excellence regarding performance in higher education is increasingly becoming a challenge and response for many outside the academy. Within the old paradigm of higher education, universities were interpreted as the preservers, transmitters, and generators of knowledge and that, except for few established and other emerging professions, higher education was not supposed to directly relate to the world of business and provide employers with employees.

This view, however, could be different to the opinions of some the actual stakeholders of higher education. At the most basic level there is discussion over the priorities assigned by universities to the traditional triangle of teaching, research and service. Within the society some sectors are buying instructions while others are buying research… The general public also seems to have greater expectations for the job-related value of higher education than is recognized in the old paradigm. Some current research suggests that the vast majority of the people feel that a high-school diploma can no longer provide for a reasonable paying job, and that having a college degree is necessary for getting a job or advancing in one`s career.

Addressing the relationship between the products of universities and the expectations of organizations and employers, the challenge is for coupling what universities produce in terms of learning and outcomes in the graduates with what the economy and the job market require.

Board of regents and/or trustees, students, parents, employers, government local and federal, and the general public are the constituents who fund higher education. If there is a too much of a gap between them and the academy concerning the role of higher education, someone will raise a legitimacy question. It is perfectly normal for the general public to express concern or interest about career opportunities and economic well-being. Understandable, the general public is increasingly concerned about access to higher education as means toward employment and economic progress (the economic promise of education). A kind of inelasticity of the demand for higher education degrees points toward the condition where the customers are not to worry about costs (in particular if education is federally financed) as long as the credentials are fair means to employment and economic stability.

Data is very illuminating in nature. InPuerto Ricowe have more than 70 institutions of higher education, 200,000 students and educational federal funds that amount annually to more than 700 millions dollars. This is a respectable and delicate system. Consequently, all participants in this very complex drama should contribute and add value to its legitimacy, strengthening and enhancement.


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