Burstein gives public lecture, considers future of Lawrence

On Friday, Feb. 14, Lawrence University’s president Mark Burstein gave a speech that focused on the effects of three growing trends in higher education on Lawrence. The three topics Burstein discussed were the economy, massive open online courses (MOOCs) and the new college in Singapore, Yale-National University of Singapore (NUS).

The economy has fostered an increase in competition in universities. More students are attending undergraduate college than ever before. From 1970 to 2010, the number of undergraduate enrollment grew from 4.3 million to 11.5 million.

“Higher education is no longer regional,” Burstein said. “It is national and even worldwide. Students now have to compete with competition from around the world.”

Another new trend that is affecting colleges is the amount of diversity that is being seen in high schools. Currently, the proportion of caucasian teens in high schools is around 50 percent. The number of Hispanic students has increased significantly, as well as the number of African American students.

Another phenomenon Burstein detailed in his speech was the number of students coming from other countries to study in the United States. There are currently 819,644 international students studying in the US, which is a record-high. The international students at Lawrence make up about 15 percent of the university’s population. This is higher than the national average, but Burstein wants more international students.

“We need to become more global,” Burstein said. “I think that [in the future] we will continue to become more diverse.”

Burstein also focused on the growing rate of educational technology, specifically the rise of MOOCs. MOOCs are educational online courses given by the top leading universities. There are hundreds of free courses that are provided for people all over the world. However, most people who use these online courses are not college-age, but adult learners.

Burstein believes that MOOCs are not going to replace a college education. However, this technology can be used as a supplemental learning tool for students.

In his speech, Burstein cited a study where students used a MOOC before taking a statistics class. When these students went into the class, it was found that they learned the material 30 percent quicker and their retention rate was 50 percent higher than that of their fellow classmates. “MOOCs are a thriving environment for educational technology to be tested,” Burstein said.

With this growth of technology, Burstein wants to begin to integrate more of it into classes on campus. Currently, technology is being used successfully in the language departments, but Burstein hopes to expand the use of technology to more of the intro level classes.

Burstein also brought up the new college, Yale-NUS. This college has the benefit of being sponsored by Yale University and also by the Singapore government. Yale-NUS has a new, global core curriculum as well as no academic departments. This school “is a new opportunity to found an elite liberal arts college,” Burstein said. “It will be able to completely rethink what a liberal arts college is.”

With the rise of Yale-NUS, many liberal arts schools are now trying to increase their speed of change to compete with this new university. For Lawrence, it is causing the administration to look at what makes Lawrence’s education unique. “We are not a commodity; we are an experience,” Burstein said.