Texas 2036 CEO Margaret Spellings Underscores the Importance of Higher Education at UTEP Centennial Lecture
Last Updated on February 19, 2020 at 12:00 AM
Originally published February 19, 2020
By Julian Herrera
Margaret Spellings, CEO of Texas 2036, visited The University of Texas at El Paso to deliver a Centennial Lecture on the topic "The Future of Higher Education" on Feb. 18, 2020, at the Undergraduate Learning Center.
UTEP College of Education Dean Clifton Tanabe, Ph.D., joined Spellings, the former U.S. Secretary of Education and former president of the University of North Carolina, to discuss the importance of affordable and effective institutions and address the public perception of higher education in the United States.
Spellings’ comments about approaching higher education from the perspective of affordability, accountability, and how efficiently K-12 students are connected to colleges were especially pertinent as the University begins the process to develop a new strategic plan.
“The question is, how do we look going into the future?” she said. Tanabe offered statistics from the Pew Research Center and Gallup that stated Americans have indicated “a growing dissatisfaction, and even suspicion, with higher education’s role in society.”
“The data says that about half of Americans used to think that education was part of the solution, that it was a great American institution and virtue,” Spellings said. “Now, more than half of the people think that it’s part of the problem in our country.”
Spellings observed that Americans are primarily seeking affordability and convenience when pursuing a college education, hence the prevalence of online degree programs. However, she suggested that the decline in individuals seeking a higher education is rooted within the lack of connection between colleges and the early years of a child’s education.
As Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush, Spellings led the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, which is ingrained with the philosophy that raising expectations and sustaining the motivation to succeed is crucial in establishing a desire to continue education after high school into college.
“How do we build capacity in our high schools, where those students and first-generation students are who often don’t see themselves as collegegoers?” she said.
UTEP is one of three institutions in Texas that has earned both the Carnegie R1 classification for top tier research universities and a Carnegie Community Engaged Institution designation. Spellings expressed an admiration for the accomplishment, stating that it represented the ability to “achieve and offer scholarship and research at a world-class level,” while remaining “completely connected to our very diverse community” at one of the largest minority-serving institutions in the nation.
Tanabe offered his assessment on what could potentially be done to improve the negative opinion of some individuals on higher education.
“One small thing to do is to try and work on getting more people into and successfully completing a college education,” he said. Both Tanabe and Spellings agreed that the cost of education was an ongoing barrier and criticism of the system, but there are legislative actions being taken to improve those conditions, and the value of financial assistance should not be understated.
Tanabe discussed the need to focus on comprehensive colleges, land grant universities and regional institutions as the foundation of higher education to avoid the misconceptions of college being only for the elite.
“The vast majority of Americans are going to be prepared in institutions like this one,” he said of UTEP. He also emphasized that relationships with community colleges are important in the process of transitioning from high school to college.
Leslie Robbins, dean of the School of Nursing at UTEP, said she enjoyed the lecture.
“It was an innovative and refreshing presentation because it really embedded and embodied a lot of what we represent here at UTEP, which is access for our students, forming partnerships and collaborations and figuring out how much farther we can go and how much better we can do to continue to make it work,” she said.
To learn more about the Centennial Lecture Series, visit www.utep.edu/about/CentennialLectureSeries.html.