Transforming the Promise of Education in a Rapidly Changing Society

Transforming the Promise of Education in a Rapidly Changing Society

Shana Warkentine Meyer, Vincent Bowhay
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2410-7.ch013
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While society rapidly changes, higher education is often viewed as slow to respond. Higher education is even seen by some as completely out-of-touch with today's society. Universities are entrusted with tuition money, grant funding, tax-exempt status, and federal tax dollars, but what returns can society expect from these investments? In response to this criticism, there is pressure to rapidly create a different present and a new future for their higher education. Preparing students to be active citizens and to serve the public good may be the best way in which universities can deliver a lasting investment in their communities, in society, and in the lives of the students they graduate. In order to make the swift changes necessary, higher education institutions and leaders must work with students and communities to solve shared issues created by a rapidly changing environment.
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Introduction: A Rapidly Changing Society

When today’s freshmen were born in the early 2000s, mobile phones were still a rarity, and for many, the internet was just catching on. Then, only 41% of American adults were online, compared to 89% today, according to the Pew Research Center (Fox, 2007). Google was born in 1998, changing the landscape of the World Wide Web. Now wireless networking is handheld, with mobile phone ownership at 95% of the U. S. population (Pew Research Center, 2019), and the internet has transformed nearly every aspect of our lives, from how we receive information, consume news, interact with friends, learn, shop, navigate, and entertain ourselves.

Since the early 2000s, the global population has exploded. The U. S. population alone grew from about 276 million in 1998 to 327 million in 2018 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2019). With each generation, new societal issues arise. Beyond the access to information the internet provides, hand-held connections to others around the globe can influence and shape events in real-time. While the Millennial generation may have been tech-savvy, the rising Generation-Z is a digital native. According to Prensky (2001), digital natives are the generation of children who have grown up surrounded by and frequently using computers, video games, digital music players, mobile phones, video cameras, and the other digital gadgets and toys on the market. Students continue to enter higher education having been exposed to technologies that have not previously existed. This great leap forward has made this generation of students technologically proficient on a wide range of platforms. Social media has quickly become one of the most influential ways in which information is disseminated and diverse views are shared, while conversations and action can be mobilized rapidly and from great distances, by those who previously may have not had a following. Instances of this mobilization are abounding.

After the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, over 13 million tweets mentioning Ferguson were sent from August 10 to August 27, 2014 (He, Hong, Frias-Martinez, & Torrens, 2015), and Black Lives Matter (#BLM) placed the spotlight on inequality in the justice system. #BLM was again used as an online rallying cry after the 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The #MeToo movement highlighted survivors of sexual harassment and abuse, while predators were told #TimesUp. Teens have embraced the reach of social media, using it to galvanize hundreds of thousands of supporters to #MarchforOurLives after another high school shooting. Pre-teen Greta Thunberg gained international recognition for her work as an environmental activist on climate change whose campaigning has gained international recognition through posts on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube (Tait, 2019). After Thunberg addressed the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference, student strikes took place every week somewhere in the world. In 2020, The Obama Foundation conducted virtual town halls, discussing the importance of staying engaged in democracy, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic (The Obama Foundation, 2020).

The days of limited mobile phone access and dial-up internet seem long ago to today’s college students, yet happened in their lifetimes. Many other exponential societal shifts have occurred within the last 20 years. The legalization of gay marriage, changing views on marijuana, the cost of higher education and rising amounts of student debt, and the term “alternative facts” have all occurred within the last few decades.

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