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Goddard and the Future of Higher Education

Barbara Vacarr, PhD's picture
Office of the President
Goddard and the Future of Higher Education


A few weeks ago I participated in a panel discussion about the reinvention of higher education sponsored by the Chronicle of Higher Education. The discussion was a critical reminder of our urgent need to respond to the new demands for accountability and relevance in higher education.

Colleges now face extraordinary financial pressures and technological changes, and learners now operate in an age of unprecedented access to information and bodies of knowledge. With the advent of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) as one example of how higher education is responding, there has been much debate about their potential to democratize education on the one hand, or further exacerbate a growing educational divide on the other.

MOOCs are a current innovation; they are educational tools no different than textbooks. They do not represent the disruption of education as we know it any more than they are a panacea for increasing access. Instead of fearing free information and online innovations, we should embrace them and ask how they might best serve the learner’s process and objectives of inquiry. 

Content-delivery tools, however, need to be held within a framework that takes responsibility for contextualizing information with the direct experience that forms the basis of knowledge – the relationship between the knower and the known. That framework is at heart of progressive education – and that is why Goddard’s voice is needed, now more than ever, in these national conversations about reform.

With good reason, people are now questioning the value of paying a lot of money for a focused degree that might be outdated or irrelevant in 10 years.  In this environment, we need to stay mindful of the value of experiential learning, of teaching people to be entrepreneurial about their passions and rooting those passions in the needs and opportunities that exist in our local communities.

Education in this context becomes a process where life, learning and livelihood are inextricably tied.

Goddard, like many colleges across the country right now, is being asked to quantify the value of a student’s investment in a college degree.  The whole discussion of ROI In my view is over-simplified, however, when considered only from a “dollar-in versus dollar-out” equation lens, and must include the enormous complexity of long-term value.  In a rapidly changing economy and the dynamic nature of work itself, we need to stop pretending that there is somehow a direct financial equation between the degree and the job, between the investment in education and knowing one’s future path with certainty.

Access to information doesn’t necessarily lead to knowledge.   As we re-envision higher education and innovate for a new economy, we must stay focused on what we know about human learning itself, and remember that how we learn is at least equally important as what we learn about.  While we support open-source information, we know that no one learns in isolation. We believe in the integrity of community-based, individualized learning that allows for a lifetime of growth and ingenuity.

Individualized learning is now on the cusp of the transformation of higher education, and it was a privilege to represent Goddard in this discussion and speak to the learner-centered model of learning that we know so much about here.



Submitted by Duncan Dwyer (not verified) on
Hi Barbara, You and I actually met when I finished my undergrad work at Lesley, but like so many, I'll always consider myself a member of the Goddard family. I appreciated your post and was pleased to hear that you brought a bit of the Goddard perspective to the national debate that is too often focused only on education as a means to a quantifiable employment end; as though learning itself has no intrinsic value. What I'm curious about is whether and to what extent *others* shared your perspective. Are we the lonely disheveled prophet standing on the street corner preaching about an idea that is just and true, but lost to the times, or are there others out there who share in the vision? Who are our allies? What can *we* do to help change the national debate (which at times feels nothing like a debate at all and more like the sound of millions of heads nodding)? I look forward to hearing your thoughts about this...

Submitted by Victor Ehly (not verified) on
Hello Barbara! I hear great things about your leadership at Goddard and wish you well in your continuing work! After retirement I have found a great deal of satisfaction teaching Intercultural Communication at CCV. We should talk again at some point. I will call soon for an appointment. Best, Victor

My time at Goddard has served me well for more than 40 years, Barbara's words are right on. Art Chickering defined my learning style when he described the "junk yard" approach to learning in his book Education and Identity. Every day I get ideas and put them to action, most recently in the building of our hotel in Honduras "El Cortijo del Lago". Cortijo means a country place where a lot is going on-- that's what Goddard was for me, a country place and a path way to the world.

Submitted by Theodore A. Hoppe (not verified) on
What is it like to teach 10,000 or more students at once, and does it really work? The largest-ever survey of professors who have taught MOOCs, or massive open online courses, shows that the process is time-consuming, but, according to the instructors, often successful. Nearly half of the professors felt their online courses were as rigorous academically as the versions they taught in the classroom. The survey, conducted by The Chronicle, attempted to reach every professor who has taught a MOOC. The online questionnaire was sent to 184 professors in late February, and 103 of them responded. Learning From Online In May 2012, when the presidents of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced that they would enter the MOOC fray with $60-million to start edX, they were emphatic that their agenda was to improve, not supplant, classroom education. "Online education is not an enemy of residential education," said Susan Hockfield, president of MIT at the time, from a dais at a hotel in Cambridge, "but an inspiring and liberating ally."

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