Steamboat Springs The pomp and ceremony associated with the tradition of the university will probably always remain a feature of higher education. However, the times are changing and community colleges such as Colorado Mountain College are leading the pack in moving higher education forward in a positive direction.
It has been difficult to shake off the stereotype of the university. After all, the university as an institution of higher education was brought to the western world in the 10th century and a number of the original traditions have been imbedded in the academic culture for more than 10 centuries. For example, there will probably always be a tradition of titles that will remain with the academy that distinguish it from any other institution. Titles such as "Chancellor," "Rector," "Provost," "Bursar," "Dean," and even "Professor," differentiate a college or university from any other type of institution - albeit some colleges and universities have merged a modern business model with the older traditions. A college or university may have a president instead of a chancellor and a vice president instead of a provost.
The degrees awarded in higher education also are an imitation of an ancient system. Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctoral degrees equate, respectively, to the old "Apprentice," "Journeyman," and "Master" titles. In academia, a title is associated with how much knowledge has been acquired.
But the acquisition of titles and the pontification of knowledge in higher education are no longer enough to meet the demands of the 21st century. Innovative colleges such as CMC are flattening out their structures, de-emphasizing the importance of the traditional titles, and are adapting what is called a "learning college philosophy."
A learning college emphasizes collaboration. Students, faculty, administration, and staff all have a responsibility and a stake in the learning experiences and outcomes. The idea of the learning college is to make connections among the curriculum and out-of-class experiences so that students can apply learning, become responsible members of the community, strive for excellence in the workplace, cope with change, and build effective relationships.
Things are stirring beneath the surface of the academic tradition, bringing changes to collaboratively affect and enhance student learning for practical application toward life in the 21st century.
Kerry Hart is dean of the Colorado Mountain College Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs. His education commentaries appear in the Steamboat Pilot & Today.