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To be successful, institutions must be responsive to change.

CHARLES DARWIN OBSERVED THAT IT'S NOT the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change. The nature and needs of today's college students are rapidly changing, and if institutions of higher learning want to remain off the endangered species list, they need to be responsive to those changes.

I received my undergraduate education from Immaculata University, the institution I have served as an administrator for the past 26 years. At the time of its founding in 1920, most women did not have the opportunity to attend an institution of higher learning. Immaculata was the first college for women in the Philadelphia area.

That model served the institution well until the late 1960s when, as a result of factors such as the GI Bill and the rise of the baby boomer generation, the need for higher education grew. We therefore opened our college for continuing education in 1969, providing lifelong learning opportunities to both men and women. By so doing, we responded to the needs of the adult learner. The college grew rapidly as a result by fulfilling that community need.

By 1983, we recognized that those same adult learners needed to have access to a graduate education, and so we established our College of Graduate Studies, which now enrolls more than 1,200 students. A decade later, we recognized that some adult learners needed to get their education in a delivery format that recognized all the learning they had accomplished by living, so we developed our accelerated degree program. Like the others, the program met early success and now enrolls more than 1,400 students.

At the turn of the millennium, we again looked at ourselves and asked, 80 years after our founding, if there still was a need for an institution such as ours that exclusively educated traditional age women. Following a comprehensive study, we made the decision that the traditional undergraduate college should go coeducational. In the last three years since we opened our doors to male students, our Undergraduate enrollment has more than doubled to nearly 900 students.

Throughout its eight decades of existence, Immaculata University has remained true to its Latin motto of Scientia floret virtute (Knowledge flourishes in virtue). At the same time, this four-year private institution rooted in the Catholic liberal arts tradition has embraced the changing needs of its students and society.

The late educator and management guru Peter Drucker predicted that in the next half-century, schools and universities will change more drastically than they have since assuming their present form more than 300 years ago, when they reorganized themselves around the printed book. This change, he felt, would be driven in large part by technology.

Immaculata is located on a scenic hillside overlooking historic Chester County, Pa. We intend to preserve the aesthetic beauty of our campus, but we've also integrated it with the latest available technology. For example, every one of our classrooms that contains a lectern has been outfitted as a smart classroom. The majority of our campus is wireless. And our Gabriele Library, which was built in 1994, is the perfect melding of traditional library with state-of-the-art technology. The facility offers a digital card catalog, laptop computers, flash drives, electronic document delivery, e-books, and so much more to students and faculty.

The university was interested in upgrading the quality of its IT service as well as merging its separate academic and administrative computing departments into a single, cohesive, service-oriented organization. In 1998, Immaculata contracted with Collegis, now SunGard Higher Education, to manage and consolidate its technology. Among other things, the company created a consolidated Office of Technology Services, established 24/7 help desk support for students enrolled in web-based and web-enhanced courses, and implemented our Banner administrative software system. When a sprinkler system flooded our server room, which is located in the library, OTS staff had the system up and operating in just a few days. Many of our administrative and course servers are now hosted at the company's facilities in Florida.

We have made significant investment in our technology, but not for the sake of the technology itself. Our primary motivation, again, is to serve the changing needs of our students and society. At one of our open houses last year, I asked a first-year student why she had chosen to attend Immaculata. She replied: "I want to be a teacher. I visited other campuses, and the other campuses do not have the technology in their classrooms that you have. I don't know how you can be a teacher today if you can't use technology to teach."

Technology in the classroom is important, but it is not the solution. It must be integrated into the day-to-day learning process. A student who razzle-dazzles us with PowerPoint but does not possess solid content has not integrated technology into the learning. All she has done is razzle-dazzle. What's important is the integration, and technology is the tool.

A significant area of growth for Immaculata during the past decade, as with many institutions, has been in online learning. We have about 1,600 students per year engaged in online learning. We're grateful for the revenue we earn from our online programs, about $8.5 million per year. But the primary reason for offering these programs online is to be responsive to the needs of the adult learners who are interested in convenience and time. I think a mistake many colleges make is to see online learning primarily as a revenue generator. To be successful, institutions need to focus instead on responding to the need. The revenue will follow if the programs are developed properly and for the right reasons.

Despite all the advances in technology, the success of any institution rests on the shoulders of the faculty. They want to be responsive to the needs of society and bring education forward to the learner. And they respond exceptionally well when given the resources to do it effectively. All of our faculty use integrated technology in their classrooms. Through SunGard Higher Education, we provide instructional designers who help them create content for their web-based and web-enhanced courses. And two years ago, we created the e-Learning Institute, which provides faculty an introduction to the fundamentals of web-based learning and helps them develop content within our WebCT course management system. The Institute has been well received and is gaining in popularity among faculty.

So what can we expect of higher education in the future? To answer that question, we must first ask in what direction our society is headed. I believe we will always be a place where students come on-site to learn, to curl up in the library with a good book, and to sit in a classroom of scholars and learn from them in a face-to-face environment. Higher education will also be wherever the learner is, whether that is in an airport, at a corporate site, or in a hospital. Learning will become seamless and a lifelong endeavor.

I also believe there will be continuing conversation and emphasis on access and assessment. I believe in the accreditation process. Immaculta, for example, has enjoyed significant change through our self-study process. However, I also think we need to be cautious as we measure and improve our performance both within and outside the classroom. No Child Left Behind has not fixed the K-12 environment. Testing, testing, and more testing of our students has only forced teachers to teach to the test, not to educate the learners. We cannot make the same mistake in higher education.

By M. Carroll Isselmann, SSND, vice president for academic affairs, Immaculata University (Pa.)
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Title Annotation:THE State OF HIGHER EDUCATION
Author:Isselmann, M. Carroll
Publication:University Business
Date:Oct 1, 2007
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