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Access to Higher Education:

The Responsibility of New Higher Education Professionals

Sarah Sampe

Northern Arizona University

Access to Higher Education:

The Responsibility of New Higher Education Professionals

Mahatma Gandhi said “be the change you wish to see in the world”, higher education is

in a position where it can make a change to impact the world. The face of higher education is

expanding what it was originally was meant for. There is an increased need for access and

affordability so that higher education is available for the majority of Americans. Higher

education is in a constant state of redefinition. Making higher education available to those who

would like to pursue it does not just start in colleges and universities. Students must be prepared

and ready to pursue post-secondary education and this revolves around issues of accessibility for


Higher education exists when students pursue education after high school. The PK-12

system is set up to prepare students to enter into their higher education studies. Unfortunately,

according to Swanson (2008), many students especially in urban areas are not being prepared to

enter post-secondary education because they are not graduating at the same rate as their suburban

peers (Swanson, 2008). Only 7 out of 10 students are graduating from high school nationally,

that rate is drastically reduced when focusing on students in the largest cities in America, going

from 70% to 50% (Swanson, 2008). This is cause for concern and impacts the number of

students who can pursue higher education. Student migration is an interesting issue to focus on

with higher education as well. If only half the students in large cities are graduating from high

school, the colleges and universities in those cities have to think about recruitment from other

avenues. When looking at the Chronicle of Higher Education (2012) tool for viewing where

freshmen classes are coming it is interesting to see the number of students attending college

outside of their state. The top 2 states that attract out of state freshmen are Pennsylvania and New

York, both states that contain cities that have 49.6% and 45.2% graduation rates respectively

(Chronicle, 2012).

Students from low-income households and populations like military veterans are less

likely to see the value of a college degree because it is not affordable (Carnevale, 2012).

Affordability is an aspect of higher education attainment that must be a commitment from

institutions. If students are not able to afford an education, their chances of employment become

small. Carnevale (2012) discusses the shift in available employment and that the number of high

school jobs has continued to decrease. Even with an expanding job market through the recession

high school employment is not readily available (Carnevale, 2012). This makes attainment of a

post-secondary degree even more important.

Attainment of post-secondary education then falls to an issue of access and is one key

trend PK-12 and higher education leaders must focus on to educate the growing population of

diverse learners. In a 2014 White House Report on increasing opportunity for low income

students, college access and affordability was one of the major aspects of the call to action.

Access has remained an issue throughout the history of higher education. Those who could

afford to go to college and met the admissions requirements were afforded the opportunity. This

has had disparaging impact on those who were not able to meet the expense and requirements.

Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, speaks to the importance of access to

remedy social inequality (Crow, 2015). Public research universities are coming together to as

Crow (2015) states “reshape the future of American higher education” (para 7).

Reshaping American higher education requires innovative practices and a renewed

relationship between the PK-12 school system and higher education institutions. Partnerships

amongst all school systems should become commonplace. One such initiative is the Building

Educational Success Through (BEST) Collaboration in Los Angeles. This initiative is a

collaboration of many different programs whose goal is to prepare more students for college,

working closely with schools within their area. These types of programs can be found throughout

the country and with a focus on helping to prepare students to be college-going will help to

increase access to higher education institutions.

In addition, to strengthening the pipeline, students need to be aware of all of the different

ways that they can attain a college education. Education starting within the PK-12 pipeline

would be key to this. The public understands the traditional college setting, on a college campus

with residential options, but newer for example online opportunities are not as well understood.

Online education has grown tremendously in recent years and as Eyring and Christensen (2011)

point out “online learning is a “disruptive innovation” that allows these students, who might not

otherwise be able to attend college, to earn a degree (p. 4).

This requires higher education professionals to think of, as Eyring and Christensen

(2011) term “disruptive innovations”, ways to increase access for students who may experience

an unclear path to higher education. New higher education professionals, such as graduate

students, who are more entrepreneurial will have more skills and ideas of changing with the

growing needs of American high school graduates, because they will be more adaptable to an

ever changing higher education environment (Kelly, 2010).

The environment of higher education is something that both Sir Ken Robinson and Dr.

Jonathan Cole see as ways of future change. Sir Ken Robinson sees the future of United States

colleges and universities as one that will need to think differently about human capacity

(Robinson, 2010). He suggests moving past notions of those who are academic and non-

academic and exploring that opportunities to promote learning, such as group work and

collaboration (Robinson, 2010). Finally, exploring the very culture of higher education

institutions and the ways in which they have traditionally run (Robinson, 2010). This speaks to

the importance of access to college. Students need to understand that there is indeed a place in

the new frame of higher education whether they have been deemed academically successful or

not. Dr. Jonathan Cole speaks to the thought of this as well.

Dr. Cole envisions universities been universally open to students of talent regardless of

their economic background (Cole, 2010). Universities will be places for students of talent to

ponder with skepticism, thinking about what is actually a fact and what makes a theory (Cole,

2010). Students in Dr. Coles higher education institutions would have access to open

communication where ideas are encouraged and easily flow (Cole, 2010). Access to this type of

environment would expand the generation of ideas as those who would not have originally

attended would be able to express their own ideas and solutions. Ideas would flow freely no

matter where they came from in the world (Cole, 2010). Above all students would work to create

the common good through “free inquiry and academic freedom” (Cole, 2010).

In the 21st century, higher education must adapt as suggested by Sir Ken Robinson and

Dr. Jonathan Cole. There are too many factors such as political, cultural, social, and economic

that now have a place in shaping learning and student engagement, to think that keeping to what

has always been done will work. New attitudes and strategies for change in higher education

requires many, as Hartelius and Cherwitz (2008) states “society’s most vexing issues require

inter- and cross-disciplinary collaborations—not because such partnerships are trendy but

because, without them, solutions remain unattainable” (p. 93).

The National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement (2012) calls for

creating a national priority of “fostering informed, engaged, responsible citizens” (p. 13). This

call to action mirrors what was previously envisioned by Sir Robinson and Dr. Cole, increasing

access of all learners to higher education to engage in critical thinking and generation of new

ideas will create students who are engaged in democracy and citizenship. Increasing access to

higher education will increase the new look of learners who come from various backgrounds,

political views, and economic statuses, which will strengthen the collective American voice in

learning and engagement. The look of higher education will need to change to one that is more

entrepreneurial, committed to academic freedom and with an ethic of care (Ewing, 2012).

Care is an important factor in addition to love and community that Lincoln (2008) shared

as important especially in shaping graduate learning. Moving forward, in higher education,

practitioners will need to shape learning as a community of learners, where new ideas are heard

and respected (Lincoln, 2008). Words such as care and love have long been diminished for their

focus on feelings, which is often considered needing separation from academe (Lincoln, 2008).

These words though and their associated feelings, create a feeling of commitment to the greater

good, which as Dr. Jonathan Cole pointed out was necessary for the continued success of higher


Continued success starts with the stated mission of each institution of higher education.

Berg (2000) suggests four questions to consider when creating an institutional mission; these

questions are: “What kind of school? To whom are we responsible? What are our strengths?

Whom should we hire?” (Berg, 2000, p. 45). These questions can help to create a clear path to

what the 21st century requires in every institution. Clearly defining as who the institution is

increasingly important when access is considered. Access to higher education institutions must

include the right fit for each student (White House, 2014).

Finding the right fit is easy when a clear mission and vision statement states the goals and

values of that institution. Institutions who position themselves as places in which all learners are

welcome, where there is a free flowing encouragement of generating new ideas, and are

affordable will see success in the changing market. The USC Rossier School of Education

Strategic Plan 2012-20187, clearly states in their mission and vision statement who they are and

the kinds of learners that they seek. Pillars of leadership, diversity, learning, and accountability

are clearly defined and students are aware of the expectations held not just of them as students,

but on faculty and the School of Education itself. Students who read their mission will clearly

align themselves with the mission and see themselves within the combines of the institution or

they will look to another institution that is better for their own values and goals.

Today’s graduate students and intellectual entrepreneurs will need to understand what the

new landscape of higher education consists of. In order to be practitioners of best practice,

understanding that access to education for all is an aspect of higher education that continues to

grow. Access allows all learners a way to attain an education that, with the help of new higher

education professionals, will be an experience of civic engagement, care, love, incorporated in a

free flowing community of learners. Higher education professionals who can make their

institutions an experience that looks at the individual and who they are, where they come from,

and values their inclusion in the process will find growing success in the new face of higher

education. Tierney (2003) makes a commitment to access clear when stating “the relentless

obsession with performance-based indicators reduced students who should have been thought of

as unique individuals with talents to be developed for democratic engagement to individuals

readied for utilitarian tasks” (p. 7). All learners involved in the process is what makes access to

higher education such an important one.

Tierney (2003) makes two recommendations for higher education that provide a clear

summation of what higher education needs to accomplish moving forward. First, improving the

[P]K-12 pipeline to improve access of all learners (Tierney, 2003). Second, civic engagement

should be a renewed focus for graduate and undergraduate students (Tierney, 2003). Higher

education in its best forms are institutions committed to advanced learning and engagement in

society. With the ever changing landscape of higher education access for all remains a focus of

concern for scholars and institutions dedicated to serving learners who are willing and able to

attain the knowledge they seek to share.


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