NeoExcellence Roundtable 12.14.05: Carol Cartwright, KSU President

Submitted by Sudhir Kade on Wed, 12/14/2005 - 14:11.


Carol Cartwright, President of Kent State University. gave an engaging presentation on the importance of higher education before a diverse group of civic entrepreneurs and concerned citizens at the City Club Tuesday. Carol announced that she will be retiring soon, closing a chapter in a remarkable and distinguished career in higher education that has spanned over forty years. Carol began with a reminder that there are 170,000 college students in Northeast Ohio, representing 25 colleges and universities. Over 36,000 of these students are Kent State students collectively this highly educated population represents a $2.2 billion dollar economic force and it is clear that we need retain and attract college students and graduates. Though Ohio is slightly above average in High School Graduation rates the state needs 440,000 more college educated citizens to reach the national average- put another way, only 2 of 4 NEO residents have college degrees, while 4 of 10 people do nationally. Cartwright attributed this mainly to legacy of blue-collar jobs but it is clear, she indicated, that times and economics are drastically changing such that this can no longer be the prevailing paradigm. The shortage of college-educated citizens in Ohio is a serious issue that must be dealt with, either through attraction or retention, or both. Many agree there had been a dramatic change in need for college education, but the fear is paying for it - state support has been very low, and there has been a strong inverse correlation between state support and state tuition. Ohio ranks 43rd in the nation in taxpayer support for higher education with one of the highest average college tuition rates nationally. 

      Considering the dynamics of the student populace, there are now new demands for accountability, with diverse students with diverse student needs: many students expect an information technology component and the pace of change has been absolutely unrelenting. Faculty have yet to embrace this dynamic yet and still maintain the attitude that this is someone else's problem to 'fix'. Faculty still, by and large, remain focused on siloed efforts centered around individual fields of expertise and passion. Today's students, Cartwright explained, embody a vibrant character: many gravitate to school and social activities, think its cool to be smart, identify with their parent's values, are respectful of social conventions and love new technology. The web is 'no longer a tool but oxygen' for the typical student- many of whom prefer visual and kinesthetic activities. Today's college students question the quality of information sources, challenge convention and want to construct their own course of learning. This speaks to the need for institutions of higher education like KSU to be constantly adapting to the dynamic needs of today's students. Though the typical college student was born after 1982, there is a growing number of nontraditional students which bring to the table their own unique needs and interests.

One thing that hasn't changed is the importance of a strong relationships between public universities like Kent and the public being served. Cartwright cited this as a key strategy advocated long ago by Thomas Jefferson, who emphasized that the benefits of higher education merit public trust and public participation. Dialog has been focused on the public good and at Kent State the latest strategic plan strongly emphasizes a stakeholder-based focus that strongly considers community interests. Kent State holds a unique position among NEO's universities as a truly regional university with campuses in six counties and downtown Cleveland. The focus of the satellite locations has been mainly on workforce development with entry level technical training and initial baccalaureate work. At the main campus, Kent State is very proud to be fourth in the nation at translating technology into specific products and services- this has been largely due to focus on specific areas of research and graduate expertise. This laudable success with commercialization of IP ranks the school with the likes of Cal Tech and Stanford. Cartwright also mentioned Kent's excellence in collaboration. One of the most notable and influential of these is the North Shore Graduate Research Alliance (between NASA Glenn and four other schools), a unique

collaboration that has resulted in a unique collaborative degree program. Others of note include a cross-sectional collaboration with Summa Akron hospital, Steris Corporation and Youngstown State to work on biohazard and bioterrorism with a safe substitute for anthrax. Technology has played an important role in that web cams are used everywhere to record these processes so they can be used as models elsewhere. Other important collaborations at KSU include the Employee Ownership Program and the Ohio Literacy Center.

In addressing issues of funding for higher education Cartwright defined a clear problem with funding for new support of these ideas. At current rates of state funding for higher education it would take 75 years to modernize the university teaching environment to meet dynamic new student needs. For this reason Kent State has worked to facilitate modernization via a 100 Million dollar bond issue in the near term (and work on resolving this debt later) that will focus on transformational learning opportunities. A current development project at Kent State is the semicircle construction of the new home for Journalism for the school as well as an initiative to reinvent food service by scrapping an antiquated cafeteria model for fresh, made to order models of food delivery. 

      When asked what it would take to drive the changes needed, Cartwright cited inspirational state-connected leadership as the most important component currently lacking. An example given of a great leadership initiative on the level of higher education was the mandate in Georgia to provide all high school graduates with a B average a Hope scholarship to attend any Georgia university- this initiative had a great secondary effect in prompting and encouraging reform of K-12 education and college preparedness at this insistence of parents eager to take advantage of this mandate. Following this decade-old success story, similar models have recently emerged at Kalamazoo and Oberlin. The beauty of the model is that is illustrates a way to improve K-12 by funding at the higher-education level rather than the K-12 level that comprises the lion's share of public funding today.

A question regarding the best contact through Kent State to handle questions involving business and the economy prompted Carol Cartwright to point our the recent appointment of a President for the (new) Office of Regional Development. The center will focus on issues of workforce development for Northeast Ohio to help boost the regional economy. 
This was quite an enlightening and informative addition to the Neoexcellence archives which identified many visionary insights related to higher education and its increasing relevance given today's economic and social trends. Carol Cartwright has clearly distinguished herself in contributing to the development our region during the past fifteen years as a NEO leader in higher education.

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