News and Announcements

Dean Lisa Lynch of the Heller School, Brandeis University, brings inaugural greetings to Regis College and President Antoinette Hays

October 5, 2011

Reimagining Learning

Members of the Regis College community, honorable guests, and President Antoinette Hays -- on the occasion of your investiture, I bring greetings on behalf of the academic community of the Greater Boston and New England area.

I was asked to speak briefly today about some of the key challenges and opportunities that you as the new president of Regis College will face. For almost 85 years Regis has been a significant educator in our region. We all know Regis as a community that pursues knowledge and wisdom for the betterment of society based on Catholic values and it has been blessed with extraordinary leaders who have not shied away from innovation. During your presidency I am certain that Regis College will continue to extend its reach in graduate as well as undergraduate education through the cultivation of new partnerships with different types of institutions and by promoting student-centered, interdisciplinary learning.

However, as new technologies transform how, when, and where people can learn, as our population ages and more people realize that they need to return to school to reinvest in their human capital, and as households struggle to find the financial means to invest in more education, it is time for all of us in higher education to re-imagine learning. We need to do this so that our colleges and universities are more accessible and affordable, so that they utilize the advantages of new technologies in how we deliver education, and so that they promote an environment of life-long learning.

What does this mean more specifically? As we struggle to recover from the greatest contraction of our economy since the Great Depression there is a great deal of discussion about the need for a more educated workforce. Yet the United States is only ranked fifth out of the 36 most industrialized countries in the world in terms of the proportion of 25-60 year olds with a postsecondary degree. A vision of college education that focuses exclusively on a residential based program for young people in their late teens or early twenties misses a growing need and opportunity to make our learning environments more accessible to those across the age spectrum. So in the context of an aging population with a clear need for more education, distance learning has opened up new opportunities for adults who need to return to school but who also face real challenges to balance their work, family obligations, and educational needs.

The good news is that information technology has transformed the way in which we are able to teach and who we can teach. Already in the United States one out of five students in college takes at least one class via distance learning. The introduction of distance learning along with blended learning programs that mix face to face classroom time with online learning, accelerated degree programs, and part time degree programs has opened up the possibility of a college education to those who might not otherwise have been able to afford it in terms of cost and time.

As our classrooms are filled with a broader mix by age and experience of students, we have the opportunity to augment our traditional faculty to student teaching model with a greater role for peer to peer learning. New technologies have also meant that we can open up our classrooms to students around the world. The creation of global classrooms can enhance the educational experience of our students by providing them with an opportunity to interact with their peers around the world even if they are not able to spend a semester or year studying abroad. The global linked classroom can also promote greater exchanges across our faculty and advance the global reach of their research activities. Finally, new technologies mean that even after graduation, students can continue their learning experience from their alma mater with webinars, open access to courseware and so on. All of this can advance the creation of a life long learning community.

But while new modes of teaching such as online learning can open up accessibility to college for more people across the age spectrum, it presents a challenge for what it means to “be” in college. At places like Regis College and Brandeis University where community is such a defining feature of our schools how we balance the ability to use online learning or new ways of organizing the time to degree to expand the scope of the education we provide while still maintaining the sense of community will be difficult. For example, the very technologies that are meant to open up college to more students can also result in students feeling isolated and remote from their peers and increase the probability of dropping out of school.

The major task then for any college or university president is to figure out the How of all this – how to raise the funds to make college more accessible, how to serve the educational needs of an aging population, how to maintain a spirit of community when students and faculty are not always meeting face to face on campus, how to inspire your faculty to re-imagine how they teach and engage in research, and how to work with partnering institutions.

An often quoted piece of advice for college presidents by Clark Kerr, a former President of the University of California system during the turbulent times of the 1960s, is that to succeed as a president you need to have the stomach of a goat and the hide of an alligator. It is a great line but I actually think that his vision of establishing “an outward-expanding institution [of higher education] that touches the lives of all citizens and is far removed from the cloistered community of scholars” is much more compelling advice for a college president today.

Toni while the stomach of a goat may still be a good thing to have as a college President, I think that your success will come much more from the power of your imagination – how you imagine new partnerships with the community around you, how you imagine new ways to engage your faculty, students, staff, alumni, trustees, and donors, and how you imagine Regis advancing its social mission.

In a time when hope and optimism are in short supply, you will know that you have done your job well when people look to Regis and conclude that this is a place where hope lies for the future betterment of society. With your global vision, infectious good humor, faith, strong values, and let’s not forget your Brandeis education, I have no doubt about your capacity to renew, and re-imagine learning at Regis College.

Therefore, on behalf of your alma mater, Brandeis University, and your colleagues in colleges and universities around the world, I extend collegial blessings and sincere wishes for the continued success of Regis College under your wise leadership, guidance, and imagination.

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