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Education commission hosts forum

By Staff | Oct 21, 2011

Friday, Oct. 14, Shepherd University and West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission officials gathered on Shepherd’s campus for the commission’s fifth and final regional forum to address key areas of its master plan.

The point of these forums, said Commission Chancellor Brian Noland, was target the five planning areas of the 2007-2012 master plan economic growth, access, cost and affordability, learning and accountability and innovation look at the discussion from the forums and take it back to the commission as they embark on drafting a new master plan.

“Everything we do is done around the master plan,” Noland said. “This is the base work for what will ensue.

“Each of these (forums) had a distinct, thematic focus,” Noland said.

Shepherd hosted the forum concentrating on learning and accountability. Because Shepherd has remained on the cutting edge as far as regents bachelor of arts programs and reducing credit hours for undergraduates, Noland said selecting this campus for the forum was a no-brainer.

Panelists included Monica Lockett, Canterbury Center administrator; Nelson Smith, former president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools; and Laura Renninger, dean of Teaching, Learning and Instructional Resources at Shepherd. Jenny Allen, regional commissioner, was also present to take in all that was discussed.

Many attendees voiced concerns over readiness, the relationship between K-12 schools and higher-education institutions and college completion.

Before the panel discussion, Shepherd President Suzanne Shipley outlined challenges facing higher education, including rising costs compounded by the growing length of time it takes for some to finish a degree. She added while the public calls for a more affordable access to the system, there must be attention paid to the quality of teachers and the curriculum.

“While these goals seem obvious, they are rarely reached,” she said.

Shipley also kicked off the question-and-answer session, inquiring about the best way to guide students from the K-12 to collegiate systems and then into the real world.

Lockett said Shepherd does a great job reaching out the the local community to have business leaders come in to speak to students and allow them hands-on experience. Renninger told attendees Shepherd had done a lot on campus to acclimate students to campus and sending them through the educational “pipeline,” including beefing up advising and tutoring services and working with faculty on transitioning students.

But Sen. John Unger (D-Berkeley) said he believed the term “pipeline” gave students the idea that there was only one way in, one way out discouraging them from any other options. He also spoke up about adult learners entering the higher education system.

“If we are serious about reaching out to lifelong learners then we’re going to have to reconsider how we deliver,” he said.

As far as nontraditional students go, Noland agreed they should be a focus for the future.

“We’re going to have to focus more on adults, not because it’s the right thing to do but because we have to diversify our enrollment,” he said.

Smith said in terms of sending students through the educational system into the real world really begins with readiness. He said studies today can assess high school students learning outcomes to better determine if they are prepared for university-level learning.

“I think you really have to asses what does readiness mean,” he said.

“In terms of readiness, do we care what the student learns of how the student learns?” said Richard Helldobler, vice president of Academic Affairs at Shepherd, noting the university spends too much time determining who is teaching instead of if learning is happening.

But many talked about the K-12 level being a huge factor for preparedness for university learning. And Delegate John Doyle (D-Jefferson) noted that West Virginia has a reputation for being undereducated..

Smith, who said accountability in the charter school system is the linchpin holding it together, said quality at the lower level means quality at the collegiate level.

“I would hope that higher education in West Virginia would push the quality of the K-12 system,” he said.

Commissioner Allen said the Higher Education Policy Commission will take a look at discussions from the forums to determine what will change and what will stay in the latest iteration of the master plan. The newest draft, which Noland said should be ready sometime next fall, will take higher education in West Virginia through 2017.

To see the master plan, visit wvhepcnew.wvnet.edu/index.phpoption=com_content&task=view&id=60&Itemid=0.