by Nicole Fauteux
Each year at the ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition, the ADEA Commission on Change and Innovation in Dental Education (ADEA CCI) sponsors a symposium at which attendees can hear about leading change in academia at the highest level. This year, Ricardo Romo, Ph.D., President of The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), shared his thoughts on disruptive factors that are influencing change in higher education.
Dr. Romo is credited with transforming UTSA from a regional campus within the University of Texas system into an emerging tier-one research institution. Since becoming UTSA President in 1999, the university’s enrollment has grown 68%, and expenditures, which currently include more than $56 million spent on research, have risen six fold.
As background to his talk, Dr. Romo made three observations:
- The economic climate for higher education has deteriorated in the past two decades;
- Demographic shifts will soon make the United States a nation in which minorities make up the majority of the population; and
- Technology is changing rapidly, with the media alternatively proclaiming that technological innovation will blaze a path to salvation or that it will do away with college as we know it.
How is higher education responding to these disruptive forces? Dr. Romo believes his university is thriving because it has chosen to embrace them. For example, UTSA has responded to the recent surge in oil and gas production in the nearby Eagle Ford Shale region of the state by making it a focus of academic research and by training more accountants and computer engineers to support drilling operations.
The university has also adopted two long-term strategies: preparing graduates for a volatile economy and educating students to be more entrepreneurial and innovative. Dr. Romo characterized today’s students as wanting to make the world a better place, and he showcased the achievements of several UTSA students who have startup businesses producing cardiac stents, helmets for prematurely born infants and air-cooling systems for prosthetic limbs.
As for the disruptive influence of technology in higher education, Dr. Romo’s comments made clear that the landscape is shifting rapidly. When asked two years ago about which technology would be most disruptive to higher education, college presidents and faculty members named MOOCs (massive open online courses). Yet a recent survey of educators in The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked MOOCs lowest. Educators’ current top choice for the most disruptive educational innovation? Hybrid courses.