Insights on the Past, Present and Future of Higher Education

Dr. James Smith is the 23rd President of East Michigan University. Dr. Smith’s education focus is on EMU students’ futures, not the past, because what they do in life with that education experience will make the world a better place. He joined host Tom Watkins to talk about his efforts and the education landscape as a whole.

Technology and today’s students’ ability to use that technology in ways generations before could not is something that Watkins said is leading to change in higher education. The pandemic reinforced this idea with the quick adaption to new technologies, such as Zoom, to teach remotely. “Students missed the person-to-person interaction, but the technology interface was never a stumble for them,” Dr. Smith said.

One challenge in higher education today that grows more of a barrier to education every year is the cost. With less state-funded education and more onus on the student and students’ families to pay a larger share of tuition, minorities and under-served areas of communities are disproportionately missing out on higher education opportunities. “This is a negative mark on us as a nation,” Dr. Smith said.

As for East Michigan University, Dr. Smith quoted a former EMU president’s words that East Michigan University is an institution of opportunity. “He knew that greater Detroit could not be great if we were leaving behind 25, 35 or 45% of the population,” Dr. Smith said. “He tried to build tuition structures for those of modest means. He built some very innovative scholarship opportunities.”

And, while that President is no longer with us, Dr. Smith tries to honor that legacy by doing the same things at EMU today.

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