Eduventures Summit

Eduventures Summit 2020: The Unfinished Business of Universal Higher Ed

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On the threshold of a new decade, and in this election year, we are proud to unveil another timely and thought-provoking lineup of topics and speakers this June at Eduventures Summit 2020. From outside of higher education, our keynote speakers include Bryan Stevenson, feted civil rights lawyer, José Andrés, top chef and humanitarian, and two of America’s greatest living historians: Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham.

Our higher ed roster spans Marty Meehan, president of the UMass System, Laurie Santos, pioneering researcher on student mental health from Yale University, and Allan Golston from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.

Co-presented with Strada Education Network, this year we look to a theory from the past to divine the future: are today’s higher education troubles an awkward metamorphosis toward truly “universal” higher education?

Eduventures Summit 2020: Elite, Mass, Universal

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of “Reflections on the Transition from Mass to Universal Higher Education,” a paper by Martin Trow, sociologist at University of California Berkeley. One of the most influential higher education theses ever penned, Trow drew new categories to make sense of the momentous changes blowing through the system at the time.

Within a few decades, America had moved from an “elite” to a “mass” higher education system. Between the end of World War II and 1960, U.S. higher education enrollment doubled to about 3.5 million students, and then doubled again to more than 8 million by the end of the 1960s. By 1970, more than half of American high school graduates enrolled in college, promoting Trow to sketch the outlines of “universal” higher education to come.

Fast forward to 2020: higher education is a paradox. On many metrics, the system has never been larger or more impactful. More Americans have degrees than at any time in the nation’s history, the student body is more representative of the population at large, and higher education is at the epicenter of the postindustrial age, producing the research that propels it and the graduates that steer it. Combined enrollment in four-year schools is record-breaking.

But media commentary rumbles with pessimism and complaint. Higher education, the charges read, favors the few at the expense of the many. Wealth and influence shape the classes at the most prestigious schools—perpetuated by privilege—better neighborhoods, superior schools, private tutors, legacy admissions and even outright fraud.

Many higher education pathways now exist—regional comprehensives, community colleges, online schools—but doubters point to a creaking edifice undermined by a litany of low standards, soaring prices, inadequate funding, limited learning, high attrition, flat wages, deadening debt, and jaded alumni. Slumps at community colleges and among adults has pulled total higher education enrollment in the wrong direction for an unprecedented eight years straight.

Consumer surveys suggest a large proportion of the population view higher education as riven by political bias and cultural arrogance. And not coincidentally, the populist political surge in the U.S. and internationally, takes a skeptical view of the sector.

In short, higher education is accused of aiding and abetting a divided and unequal society. No longer the ladder of social mobility, for many poor families, higher education has become an impossible dream, an unnavigable maze, or a route to dropout and disappointment. Middle class families are increasingly too wealthy for substantial aid but too poor to avoid significant debt. In the third decade of the 21st century, it is not sustainable for higher education to be selective, rigorous, and meritocratic if it strengthens a privileged echo-chamber that reinforces social dislocation.

What is Universal Higher Education?

Today’s tribulations are the growing pains of a system groping, often blindly and fractiously, toward truly universal higher education. At Eduventures Summit 2020, we will debate a fundamental question:

Since Martin Trow’s seminal 1970 paper, there is no question that it has evolved in numerous ways. Bigger, more diverse colleges and universities, a wider array of fields of study and credentials, the embrace of adults and new technology, but “universal” still rings strange. How can a system long defined by exclusivity be genuinely inclusive? The root of “university” is unconstrained knowledge, not egalitarianism.

Some might argue that American higher education already has universal characteristics but just needs proper funding. Community colleges, for example, are open admission, large-scale, and allied to both academic and employment exits, but subsist on resources too meager to stem uneven performance. The “free college” drumbeat among Democratic contenders for the presidency envisages a free public higher education push echoing the universal high school movement of the early 20th century.

Wisdom through Diversity

Eduventures Summit 2020 will explore the power and pitfalls of universal higher education from numerous angles. Indeed, our event is unique in mingling higher education luminaries with leading lights from other sectors. Diverse viewpoints are how we learn. Our Summit 2020 roster includes:

  • Bryan Stevenson, the leading civil rights lawyer of his generation, co-founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, and subject of the new film Just Mercy, starring Michael B. Jordan, will reflect on the unfinished business of equality in America, including higher education.
  • Marty Meehan, President of the University of Massachusetts (UMass) system on his bid to tackle demographic and funding pressures by making UMass a national online powerhouse.
  • Laurie Santos, professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale, will discuss her pioneering work on the alleged student mental health crisis.
  • José Andrés, top chef and humanitarian, founder of World Central Kitchen, which provides nutritious food in disaster-ridden communities, will be part of our 2020 Best in Class series.

Strada Education Network, our co-presenter once again this year, will explore the latest findings from their unprecedented Consumer Insights survey of how Americans think about education and employment.

Of course, Eduventures data and insight will anchor the agenda. Among plenary discussions of our latest studies, we will also debut seven analyst-led Research Roundtables to explore where our research findings meet practice.

Summit 2020 will close, in this election year, with a fireside chat with two of America’s greatest living presidential historians: the Pulitzer-prize-winning pair of Doris Kearns Goodwin, back by popular demand, and Jon Meacham. History, if we only listen, is a great teacher.

This event, held once again at the Intercontinental Hotel in Boston, June 3-5, 2020, is limited to 500 attendees. Early Bird registration is now open for Eduventures and ACT | NRCCUA clients, as well as other higher education professionals.

Higher education has a big decade ahead. See into the future at Eduventures Summit 2020.

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Learn more about our team of expert research analysts here.

Eduventures Chief Research Officer at ACT | NRCCUA

Join us in Boston, June 3-5, 2020, as we convene eminent thinkers, leaders, and practitioners from across the higher education spectrum to examine and showcase the best ideas, old and new. If there is one event in higher ed you attend in 2020, make it Eduventures Summit.

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