A man standing with a microphone in front of a screen that says \"THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION\" next to an illustration of Virginia with the letters \"VCU\" above hit. Next to him a woman is sitting in a brown chair and smiling.
VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., and Simmi Bhuller, publisher of the Chronicle of Higher Education, gave introductory remarks Monday at “Making the Case: Higher Ed’s Value to Virginia.” (Photo by Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications.)

Chronicle of Higher Education, VCU convene leaders to discuss higher education’s value

“Virginia needs to be a model of what higher education can do,” VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., said at the event.

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College, university and community college presidents and students gathered with community, political and business leaders for a two-day event co-hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University and the Chronicle of Higher Education focused on demonstrating and enhancing the value that higher education provides.

Leaders met at the event, “Making the Case: Higher Ed’s Value to Virginia,” amid national polls showing that more Americans view higher education with distrust and more high school graduates are questioning the value of college. They held a variety of discussions building on the recognition that higher education remains a wise investment for many Americans, providing a pathway to a better career and to a longer, healthier, happier life.

“It’s a really important conversation and we need to dive in and figure out what we're going to do,” said Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of VCU. “My view is that Virginia needs to be a model of what higher education can do, in all the ways in which different segments of higher education can serve different people and really build a tremendously robust economy and society.”

The event was the first in a series of gatherings across the country organized by the Chronicle of Higher Education in which leaders can have thoughtful, direct and action-oriented discussions about the value of higher education.

“My hope is that this day is really a chance for the presidents to have very candid, honest conversations, and that it get the wheels turning, inspires innovation and inspires new ideas on how we can bring more value to the market and to students most importantly,” said Simmi Bhuller, publisher of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Bhuller added that VCU — an “innovative, inspiring” institution — was the perfect university to launch the Chronicle’s series of events.

“We knew we wanted to start in Virginia for a variety reasons,” she said. “When [VCU] offered it up, we jumped at the opportunity.”

The event kicked off Sunday night with a conversation about how the public views high education nationally, including how people’s views of higher education compare with their views of their local institution, what people feel colleges do well and poorly, and what experiences shape the perceptions of those who didn’t attend college or didn’t graduate.

Monday, the event continued with a panel of students from VCU and Reynolds Community College, and a student support specialist from George Mason University, discussing their perspectives on higher education access and affordability, and how one-on-one interactions and ground level policies can help economically disadvantaged students succeed.

Four people sitting in chairs in front of a screen.
Sushma Gude, a student at VCU; Amanda Williams, a student support specialist at George Mason University; and Manuella Escobar Guzman, a student at Reynolds Community College, spoke with Fernanda Zamudio-Suarez of the Chronicle of Higher Education about higher education access and affordability. (Photo by Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications.)

A panel of business leaders and Virginia lawmakers discussed what they are looking for from higher education in Virginia – not just to train a workforce but to also drive growth and innovation.

A conversation between Chronicle of Higher Education editor Brock Read and Northern Virginia Community College President Anne Kress, Ed.D., and William & Mary President Katherine Rowe, Ph.D., explored the topic of building relationships with business leaders, lawmakers and others to meet Virginia’s economic and other challenges.

And Rao and Read led a session on how Virginia institutions can transform the student experience by innovating to rethink approaches to teaching, enrollment and student support.

“Can we change? Or do our structures not make it possible for us to change?” Rao said in his opening remarks. “We’ve got an enormous opportunity. And we need to talk, we need to get into this question about whether or not trust and value in higher education is really there. And how do we need to work more together? How do we need to look at the structures of what we do and whether or not they're working? And how does it really connect to society? Are we connected to what society really needs? Is this gap between higher education in general and the people who need us, is it growing? I think it is in some places. I think it isn't in other places. And what does that mean?”