Thoughts from WT: Regional universities in transition: some proposals


By Dr Walter Wendler

Higher education is changing remarkably in response to digitization, demographics and increasingly diverse market forces. Small regional public and private universities that train half of the country’s students are likely to face challenges in the future. Those who don’t adapt will at least falter or fail at worst. Regional responsiveness is half the equation. The other half serves the world – a 50/50 impact.

My advice as individuals and families is selecting a study institution in 2022 to seek one that responds to the changing world. The real and perceived quality of regional institutions will increase and decrease depending on agility, like that of Studebaker; interesting sights but of diminished value.

A degree obtained from an unresponsive institution will lose value, like the stock of a bankrupt company. Fortunately, the opposite is true. This reality will slightly affect flagships, such as Texas A&M University or the University of Texas, which will continue to attract about 11% of state and nation’s undergraduates (2,600,000) to a traditional educational experience. . The remaining 89% (23,636,363) may seek a more non-traditional approach, representing less than 10% of the US population. Among the world’s population, even fewer have access to any higher education. Regional institutions will skyrocket or starve depending on agility and the drive to innovate – to serve locally first, without excuses or qualifications, while simultaneously serving the world in innovative ways. 50/50.

Too many universities of all stripes are notoriously opposed to change. Several 50/50 proposals for regional universities make sense and form the foundation for future strength and value.

Half traditional / half non-traditional — Traditional students usually enter college right out of high school. Non-traditional students are older, employed full time, with families and often the first in the family to attend university – this demographic is growing explosively. More and more, they care less about football matches, social clubs, five-star dorms, fine dining and reserved parking spaces. Instead, they focus solely on the skills and insight offered by stimulating educational experiences. Universities that neglect the aspirations and needs of non-traditional students lose their vitality.

Half Campus / Half Online – More and more students are engaged in the workforce and would like to have the opportunity to progress as well: the night students of the 21st century. Hiring a full-time, 35-year-old parent in a campus experiment is deaf. Denying them access (through an electronic device) to an educational opportunity that improves their lives is shortsighted. Individual and family trajectories can be radically altered with access to digital educational experiences. And, I have access to 100 times the information held in the world’s largest library (the Library of Congress with 170 million items) through my cell phone. (Much to my regret, WT still needs manuals) There are currently five billion portable devices on the planet. More people in the world have direct access to the Library of Congress than to drinking water. Unresponsive universities are serving fewer and fewer students and are struggling to maintain themselves.

Half Undergraduate / Half Graduate — As the demands for knowledge and skills in the workplace change, the demand for graduate degrees in a variety of specialized fields of study increases. Hidden predispositions don’t work. “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile.” Specialized graduate offerings tailored to regional and global strengths provide far-reaching opportunities for graduate study in residence and online. For example, Panhandle’s commerce and entrepreneurship ensures economic development, urgent water and energy needs, rural health care, teachers and administrators in small school districts, food production and maintenance of culture in small communities which are essential in an open and free environment. company are all significant and identified in WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World. Graduate studies provide up-to-date and useful information on a regional basis. Contrary to common sense, regional focus inflates rather than stifles influence. As unique as the Texas Panhandle is, there are countless similar regions around the world. To distort a phrase from Patrick Geddes, good regional universities should act and think locally to serve globally.

Half of them earn a bachelor’s degree while holding an associate’s degree. The safest and best way for students interested in a bachelor’s degree to reduce their debt load (and tuition fees are out of reach for too many) is to attend and graduate from a community college. And don’t borrow a dime for the two-year degree. Each course should be transferred to the upper college and major of its choice. Effective guidance will guide appropriately. A deliberative and thoughtful movement demands that universities become aggressively transfer-friendly, transparent and cost-effective. There should be no credit “leaks”. The market yearns for it, and responsive universities will respond.

University education is an investment or a lifelong burden. If you don’t believe me, ask the 2.8 million Americans over 60 who pay off student loans or the 700,000 souls with Social Security benefits foreclosed on to pay off student loans. The long-term value of a college education is as good as the long-term vision of the institution providing it. Thoughtful, honest and transparent teamwork, digitally hybrid and mission-oriented, will promote access and success for students and institutions.

“From the handshake to the world. “

Walter V. Wendler is president of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at

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