VCU’s “relevance” as an institution was the theme of President Michael Rao’s annual State of the University address on Jan. 28.
Rao, now in his seventh year in office, cited a poll by the Pew Research Center which indicates fewer than half of Americans believe attending college is the best way to succeed, while in contrast, experts believe 60 percent of Americans need a degree for the nation to be competitive in the 21st century economy.
“The world has changed,” Rao said, “but universities haven’t changed as quickly, and thus I must say we have fallen behind.”
The president acknowledged the increasing cost of attending college as signs that universities across the country were failing to meet the public’s standard and that universities need to close the gap between the amount of underprivileged versus wealthy individuals that graduate.
“We’re not always relevant in the ways that we once were,” Rao said. “Too many universities are seen as institutions rather than opportunities.”
The president said VCU has played an important role in making higher education more accessible by being Virginia’s leader in Pell grant awards, and said he plans to further efforts to make the university relevant to its students, the community and world.
Rao said one way VCU would accomplish this is by prioritizing undergraduate research involvement, and beginning in fall 2016 “all students will have a real world experience as part of their education,” which received significant applause from the audience.
“The way that students prefer to learn is changing, and so the spaces in which they learn have to change too,” Rao said, referencing the $50 million Cabell library renovations and Academic Learning Commons, which opened in 2013.
Rao also touted a program created by VCU Trauma Center faculty which promotes anti-violence advocacy through partnerships with groups like the Boys and Girls Club, as well as emphasizing the importance of diversity within the university.
To be relevant to the world, Rao said the university must ensure we “look like the world that we lead,” and acknowledged that diversity has been a buzz-word in higher education — used more often for marketing than mission.
“It’s unacceptable that someone might not succeed just because of what he looks like or how she thinks or who she loves or where she was born,” he said, referencing the university’s diversity forum hosted before winter break in response to students standing in solidarity with their peers at the University of Missouri and organizing a sit-in at Rao’s office.
“That’s why I was so moved when our community came together before winter break, in what I consider to be a remarkable show of unity,” Rao said. “We will be at the intersection of hope and opportunity.”
Print News Editor, Fadel Allassan
Fadel is a sophomore print journalism major. He is fluent in English, French and Sarcasm, and he probably doesn’t like you. Fadel enjoys writing about politics and making people drive him to Cook-Out. // Facebook | LinkedIn