University of Akron President Luis Proenza said Thursday that UA must find new ways to serve students because they “can and do learn almost anything for free through the Internet.”
“We cannot continue to justify the high cost of tuition,” today about $10,000 a year for UA undergraduates, he said. “Disruptive innovations are forcing our hand.”
“Change” was the theme of Proenza’s annual State of the University address to the campus and community at E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall.
About 300 people attended the hourlong presentation titled We Have Done Much and We Will Do More.
The upbeat speech included video testimonials of five satisfied UA students, a slide presentation and chocolate-covered cookies in the shape of Zippy the kangaroo mascot.
As always, Proenza, 67, outlined what he sees as the successes of his 14 years as head of the university and the challenges that lie ahead.
He pointed to several high points — the $600 million-plus remake of campus, numerous partnerships with business and industry and UA’s role leading students to success.
“In this global, knowledge-based economy, universities like ours continue to offer the greatest promise for individual success and for innovation-driven prosperity,” he said.
He applauded UA’s new Achieving Distinction program, which encourages faculty to work together to develop new products and processes.
This fall, UA awarded $7.5 million over two years to the first two proposals — a biomimicry research and innovation initiative that aims to create new products inspired by nature, such as by synthetically reproducing the adhesive qualities of gecko feet, and a “seamless framework” that aims to improve innovation and entrepreneurship campuswide.
Meanwhile, Proenza said, the university has an ambitious enrollment goal of 40,000 students by 2020, a third more than the number enrolled today.
Those students may come to UA in any number of ways — as traditional students fresh from high school, at night, at remote campus sites or by the Internet.
In fact, the university has to find new ways to deliver education and to determine what students know, Proenza said.
That will require new business models that he and other university leaders will discuss this weekend at the annual meeting of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities in Denver.
UA has come up with its own model for the future, tentatively called the Integrator/Assessor Model, Proenza said, or “I AM” as in “I am successful,” for short.
It could use a variety of learning platforms, including courses offered online or courses collaboratively developed by faculty at many universities.
The goal is to “transform the cost structures of learning to a more sustainable level by reducing the need for all knowledge to be recreated by individual instructors every day for presentation in a physical classroom,” he reported to campus in September. In other words, the I AM model would reduce costs by increasing the scale of services.
Campuses won’t disappear and the “student-faculty relationship and the role of the campus will remain at the core of learning,” he said Thursday.
Still, the university would have to find new ways to assess, certify and credential knowledge, regardless of whether the student had ever set foot on the UA campus.
He said he has been driving home these points in recent months with the Faculty Senate and campus groups.
“If we wait much longer, it will be too late,” he said. “We must seize the moment because others already are driving ahead.”
Carol Biliczky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3729.