Panelists Discuss ‘The Future of Higher Education’ at Latest Connecticut Forum

Trinity Students, Staff, Faculty, and Administrators Attend Event at the Bushnell

​Hartford, Connecticut, December 22, 2016 – Trinity College students, staff members, faculty members, and administrators attended the recent Connecticut Forum event to engage in a discussion about “The Future of Higher Education” at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Hartford. Trinity is among the Forum’s Education Partners, which support open dialogue, lifelong learning, and the free and active exchange of ideas. A dinner for the panelists and invited guests was held at Trinity College before the Forum on December 1.

​(Above) Daphne Koller and Arne Duncan on stage at the Bushnell during the Connecticut Forum. (Below) Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, with Trinity College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney at Trinity before the Forum. Photos by Nick Caito, courtesy of the Connecticut Forum.

The on-stage discussion featured panelists with a great deal of insight and experience in the field of higher education: Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, who has been the president of University of Maryland, Baltimore County, since 1992 and is a consultant on science and math education to national agencies, universities, and school systems; Daphne Koller, who is the co-founder of Coursera, an educational technology company that offers massive open online courses (MOOCs) with partnering universities, and was formerly a computer science professor at Stanford University; and Arne Duncan, who was the ninth U.S. secretary of education, serving under President Barack Obama from January 20, 2009, through January 1, 2016.

The moderator of the Forum was John Dankosky, executive editor of the New England News Collaborative and the host of “NEXT,” a weekly program about New England. The first half of the evening involved the panelists answering questions from Dankosky, and the second half addressed questions collected from the audience members during intermission.

Hrabowski said that more focus should be put on early education, to set a solid foundation for all children. “I think college presidents should be as concerned about what happens in pre-Kindergarten as they are about a Ph.D. program,” he said.

Duncan advocated for more Pell grants for high-achieving, lower-income high school students. “The U.S. is 12th in the world in college completion rates,” he said. “A generation ago, we were first.”

Koller said that rather than any particular academic subject, the top priority should be teaching students how to learn. “The key skills are learning how to think and learning how to learn, reason, and communicate,” she said, “so when the other skills you learned in college become obsolete, you can go learn the next one.”

Throughout the discussion, each panelist stressed the importance of encouraging students to go beyond their comfort zones and embrace their differences while trying to find common ground. “People should say what they believe, but it requires trust,” Hrabowski said. “Young people are willing to open their minds and their hearts if they are given a place where they feel comfortable.”

​Trinity College Admissions Director Anthony Berry, Individualized Degree Program Associate Director Roberta Rogers, and Academy of Lifelong Learning Co-Director Leslie Desmangles (also professor of
religious studies and international studies)
provided information about Trinity College in the Bushnell lobby during the Connecticut Forum. Photo by Kathy Andrews.
Among many other topics they addressed during the wide-ranging conversation, Koller extolled the virtues of open-ended learning – rather than a cookie-cutter, “one-size-fits-all” experience – and Duncan emphasized the need for proper funding of education at all levels.

Trinity student Giana Moreno ’20 agreed with the panelists that a quality education must begin at a very young age. “I believe it is equally as important to examine the teaching methods of Kindergarten educators as it is higher education professors because our children not only need to be taught, but need to be exposed to creative and critical thinking,” Moreno said. She added that she enjoyed hearing the panelists debate the value of teaching only what can be assessed through standardized testing. “Sure, we are taught the Pythagorean Theorem,” Moreno said, “but how do we solve conflict? How do we learn to be sympathetic leaders? Most importantly, how are we taught to learn?”

Erick Pena ’20 said that the discussion gave him confidence in the future of higher education. “It was incredible to see such an experienced group of people in the field sit down and listen to and challenge one another’s ideas in order to create a better future,” he said.

Written by Andrew J. Concatelli