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Leslie Fenwick Discusses Higher Education in a Washington Post Live Webinar

During the Washington Post Live’s webinar, “U.S. Higher Education: Rethinking the Possibilities,” AACTE’s Dean in Residence Leslie Fenwick, dean emeritus of Howard University School of Education, was interviewed by Eugene Scott as the first of the two guests. The interview was comprised of questions covering different facets of the education space including policy, diversity, student loans, and the pandemic.

The first question addressed President Joe Biden and what Fenwick believed should be his top priority in regard to education policy. Fenwick response focused on embracing a new and more diverse student population both in the workforce and higher education. She delved into specifics of the increasing majority of non-White students in public schools beginning in 2018 and continuing on an upward trajectory.

The next two questions covered student loan debt forgiveness, tuition free college, and if these concepts are still feasible in leu of the pandemic. Fenwick stated that there is a need for a restructuring of how students pay for college, undergraduate, and professional school. She underscored that currently most students use loans to get their education. She stated, “I think we’re at a tipping point where we need to reconsider some of these fundamental assumptions not only about how we fund K-12 education but how we expect young people to fund higher education.” Fenwick says it’s not enough to look at it as expanding the grant, rather they should focus on reducing the costs of education.

Scott added that there was controversy around debt forgiveness, stating that those who already paid off their own debt considered it unfair. Fenwick specified that civic life and public policy should always be forwarding looking, and that it is not about the past, it’s about looking and crafting a better future. “The goal is to increase the diversity of students who have college degrees, and are equipped to enter the workforce with certificates, licensure, and training, bettering our society as a whole.” She affirmed.

As the pandemic has changed a lot about education as a whole, one way it has impacted students is in the growing digital divide. Fenwick addresses the fact that although this generation of young people are considered digital natives, there is still a lag with access to internet. “Our old assumptions about students of color or people of color being stuck on a lower rung in the education pipeline or a lower rung, entry-level positions in the workforce, restricting those populations, especially now, is not going to serve our productivity goals.” She ends this topic with a brief mention of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

In closing, Scott asked about the drop in enrollment seen during the pandemic, and the best way to address this issue. Fenwick expresses her concern for the 20% enrollment dropout rate and goes on to explain the cause of dropouts “… resources are the determinative factor here in buoying a new generation of students to attend and graduate from college, to participate in upskilling through licensure and certification programs, and then to enter the workforce not only at the lower rungs but to be cultivated for senior management and leadership positions.” Fenwick said.

For a more in-depth view of the webinar, link to the transcript.

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