What new mindsets are needed to harness change?

Posted by Ronald | March 11, 2013  |  No Comment

The new mantra in business is that the only thing that stays constant is change. Change is inevitable and is the new norm for our world. Just as businesses have to deal with change, our educational institutions need to embrace and harness the dynamics of change. For education, the questions to be asked are: What new mindsets are needed to harness change and how can we do this considering the economic climate of finite resources.

The theme for the 95th Annual Meeting of the American Council on Education (ACE) was “Leading Change.” The keynote speaker for the opening session was Dr. William E. (Brit) Kirwan, chancellor, for the University System of Maryland. Following are excerpts from Kirwan’s address on the new mindsets needed by the educational community:

Need for educated parents:

Kirwan notes that in our society, a college degree is essential. A person with a college degree earns over one million dollars more than a person with a high school diploma. However, too many disadvantaged children are not going to college. And, they have a 29 percent less chance of enrolling in higher education if their parents do not have a degree. A child born into a family at the highest quartile of income, has an 85 percent chance of earning a degree compared to less than an eight percent chance for a child born into a family at the lowest quartile of income. Based on these statistics, Kirwan believes that education is dependent upon having an educated parent base. Without this base, we have a permanent economic underclass.

Leading change:

Throughout American history, we have been confronted with challenges. During these times, we have had incredible leaders such as president Abraham Lincoln and civil rights leader, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. to “lead change and take risk to secure the nation’s well being” for a better future for all humankind. Our nation needs the higher education community to lead change as never before. We do not have enough students pursuing STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) degrees although these skills are essential for a 21st century workforce. According to the National Science Foundation, this crisis of having a skilled labor force threatens American security.

The New Mindset:

Kirwan believes that to harness change without spending additional revenues will “require a new mindset.” He reveals that we can lead change through four areas: (1) more effective matching of students with colleges; (2) employing different financial aid models; (3) building a stronger culture of college completion rates (4) utilizing online teaching to provide lower cost, high quality education.

College Matching:

Kirwan states that an alarming number of students do not attend colleges and, particularly, institutions suited or tailored best for their needs as cited in the book, “Crossing the Finish Line” by William G. Bowen, Matthew M. Chingos and Michael S. McPherson. Kirwan says that students such as African-Americans should attend colleges that better match their needs and the institutions need to do a better job of serving them. Further, Kirwan emphasizes a need to create stronger partnerships with middle and high schools in economically disadvantaged school districts such as the Way to Go Maryland Program. This program encourages middle and high school students to begin preparation for college early and offers tips for parents.

Financial Aid:

Kirwan notes that the U.S. Department of Education is seeking new ideas from the higher education community on the policies and practices for financial aid. According to Kirwan, several organizations have expressed a need to end financial aid awards to students upon the completions of 125 credits, extend disbursement over a longer period of time and award students for substantial progress towards completions.

College Completion:

Kirwan says that we do a good job of “advertising to attract students to colleges;” however, we do not commit the same attention to ensuring that students graduate from our institutions. He recommends that we benchmark best practices with institutions that are having success with graduation rates such as the University of Northern Iowa, Pennsylvania State, Albany State and Florida State Universities. According to a study conducted by Kati Haycock and the Education Trust, these universities have success rates that are approximately 11-20 percentage points higher than their peer institutions. Kirwan says the key to their institutions is that their presidents “made a visible focus and commitment to college completion.”


As a part of any successful institution, effective leaders learn how to take advantage of available resources. In an information age, Kirwan says we have to maximize the use of technology and if we don’t change the way we operate, we do not have a realistic hope of offering high quality education at a lower cost. As an example, Kirwan referenced Carol Twigg, president of the National Center for Academic Transformation. Twigg uses information technology such as online learning to transform teaching and learning in higher education while reducing instructional costs.

As we embark upon this 21st century, the only constant is change. For educators, we must either lead the change or be lead. Kirwan’s ending question to the educational community is key, “Do we have the will to lead change?”

Dr. Ronald Holmes is the author of three books, “Education Questions to be Answered,” “Current Issues and Answers in Education” and “How to Eradicate Hazing.” He is publisher of “The Holmes Education Post,” an education focused Internet newspaper. Holmes is the national superintendent of education for the National Save the Family Now Movement, Inc., a former teacher, school administrator and district superintendent. He can be reached at [email protected]

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