Harker discusses future of university, gains from Path to Prominence
Published: Monday, September 30, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 30, 2013 23:09
Patrick Harker became the university’s 26th president in July 2007 and almost immediately set about working to see how the university could improve. In May of the following year, he made public his Path to Prominence, a five-point plan that aims to make the university a leader in global education and innovation.
Harker said Path to Prominence came about after a sweeping, university-wide review in 2007.
“Organizations, for-profit, nonprofit, government entities, always have to take some time to step back and reflect about where they are and where they’re going, right?” Harker said. “That’s important because if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re not going to get there.”
Such a review was overdue, he said, and after meeting with many people affiliated with the university, such as alumni, professors and administrators, Harker formulated his plan. The five principles of Path to Prominence are Delaware first, diversity, partnership, engagement and impact.
Now, six years after the plan was unveiled, Harker said it is time to move forward to another stage, one where the university focuses less on what it does and more on how the goals are accomplished.
“Some of it will be the same,” he said. “It’s not like we’ve achieved everything, checked everything off. I mean things like becoming a more diverse campus, that’s something you have to focus on every single day.”
That process will begin in the spring, and administrators will start developing a fully-formed design for continuing advancement, he said.
Some of the boosts from Path to Prominence include increased research opportunities, diversity and donations. According to a presentation available on the university’s website that Harker gave at a May Board of Trustees meeting, sponsored research has grown by 30 percent from five years ago and African-American freshmen enrollment is up 56 percent from 2008. Donations have grown from approximately $20 million in 2007 to more than $60 million the most recent year, he said.
Another key part of the plan is the building of various structures on campus, such as the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Lab, Harker said.
Harker said a key feature of the next phase of Path to Prominence will be keeping education affordable.
Contrary to what many people think, higher education is not expensive due to “waste, fraud and abuse” but because of the high demand for top instructors and researchers, who thus command high salaries, he said.
“The only way to really bend that cost curve is not unlike what’s happening in health care,” he said. “It’s the use of technology, it’s the use of other kinds of professionals.”
Though the university could lower costs, the quality of the resulting education will be so low that few would want it and few employers would seek such candidates, he said.
“Your generation is facing a globally-competitive world unlike no other generation in history,” he said of current students. “You’re not competing against some kid from Delaware, New Jersey or Pennsylvania, you’re competing against a global market now.”
The future of education, Harker said, lies in technology and problem-based learning. Lectures will likely be left behind, he said.
To help current students, the university has put an emphasis on internships and research opportunities, Harker said. Administrators have worked with alumni to encourage them to hire recent graduates, while the new Science, Technology and Advanced Research Campus will host only organizations committed to working with professors for research or students for internships.
The STAR Campus, which is currently under construction and will not be completed for years, will serve to educate the populace and benefit the economy, he said. The university has also aimed to help the populace by launching Commitment to Delawareans, a multi-faceted plan to attract more local high school graduates. Loans have been made more affordable, while the university works with state schools to help students in middle and high school understand what they need to do get admitted to a prestigious college, Harker said.
The nation continues to evolve, as does the future of higher education, and the university must stay ahead of the curve and keep making advancements, he said.
“We will continue to stay true to our mission,” he said. “I think organizations always have to check themselves, to make sure ‘are you doing what you are designed to do?’ Again, our mission is to provide a tremendous educational opportunity for the citizens of the state, and for the region and for the world and to bring new ideas into the world.”