Higher education administrators gathered in Waco this week to discuss their challenges and their hopes for the future during a time of fluidity in the industry.

Longtime Waco leader Mary Landon Darden, president of Higher Education Innovation LLC, hosted the conference, “From Survive to Thrive: Envisioning Success for Colleges and Universities in Times of Radical Change,” on Thursday and Friday at the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative.

A former college administrator, Darden started Higher Education Innovation in the wake of a Harvard Business School professor predicting in 2017 that half of the country’s 4,000 colleges and universities would go bankrupt in the next 10 to 15 years.

On Friday, Joanna Kile, vice president of instruction at Texas Southmost College in Brownsville, said partnerships between colleges and businesses to grow workforce development play an important role in higher education. She said attendees should consider the status of their colleges’ strategic partnerships with local industry leaders and accurately monitor them.

“Every good workforce person has to be out in the community understanding where the business infiltration is coming from and where the expansion is going to be,” Kile said.

Helping students understand their opportunities and potential career trajectories is a key step to success, she said.

At a former job at Houston Community College, Kile helped with a marketing campaign asking community members to list their last seven jobs and a few details about them. Armed with that information, faculty members and administrators identified traditional and nontraditional career pathways and created models for both the college and local industry, she said.

Also Friday, Meredith Woo, president of Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar, Virginia, said her goal is to make college “excellent, relevant and affordable.”

Sweet Briar, a women’s liberal arts college, almost closed in 2015 before alumnae and supporters won a court battle to keep it open.

“I think what makes America the eighth wonder of the world in terms of higher education is the fact that it has a very diverse institutional set up,” Woo said.

Recommended for you