As a university professor and a lifespan developmental psychologist, I tend to approach my work from a developmental perspective. This means I aim to foster a lifelong love of learning and to help others find a sense of meaning and purpose, as well as confidence in their ability to reach their goals. My approach to higher education is shaped by my desire to provide the best possible education for my students. This is why the recent Board of Regents’ proposed changes at the four state universities have me worried.
If successful, the BOR proposals will dramatically alter the way faculty can teach and our ability to do our jobs well. These changes coming from the BOR will not just have a negative impact on faculty, but also on our students, our communities, and our state.
College isn’t just about providing content, but about helping students to find their passion and their voice. Helping students to build their confidence and competence involves developing a sense of trust between professor and student. The best outcomes result when students engage with the university beyond the classroom and have opportunities for significant learning experiences through community engagement, service-learning, and working on research projects with professors. Creating these opportunities for students takes time. Faculty have to develop relationships with members of the community and develop partnerships with industry professionals. The more classes we teach and the more students we have, the less time we have for developing these important relationships and for creating these experiences for students.
A perfect example of relationship building and community engagement involves my area of expertise —gerontology— which focuses on the later part of people’s lifespan. Connecticut has the seventh oldest population in the nation and in less than 10 years, over 25 percent of our population will be aged 60 or older. With people living and working longer, the work I do with my students gives them a realistic understanding of the challenges and benefits that come with age and the aging society of which they will be a part.
Intergenerational workforces and families are the new norm. As a direct result of my research and opportunities for professional development, I was able to create an intergenerational program that benefits both students and older adults in our communities. This program, called WISE, has offered some of my most rewarding experiences as an educator. Seeing my students and older adults in the classroom or at the senior center getting to know one another and discussing topics of mutual interest such as relationships, technology, and the environment is always inspiring.
Through these animated and engaging meetings, students and older adults are often surprised at how much they have in common. Research I have conducted with the help of my students has shown the WISE program promotes intergenerational connection and understanding. Experiences like the WISE program can also spark students’ interest in careers they never knew existed.
Opportunities for curriculum development, research, and involvement in professional and scholarly organizations like the Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE) made creating the WISE program a reality. Without such opportunities, faculty would lose out on insights from colleagues across the globe, fail to stay current in their fields, develop up-to-date teaching methods or cutting-edge research, and community engagement would be curtailed if not stopped altogether.
My work with AGHE helped CCSU become a leader in the Age-Friendly University movement. We were the first in Connecticut to join the Age-Friendly University global network, which means that CCSU has made a commitment to create a more age-inclusive campus and develop more opportunities for lifelong learning and engagement that foster the health and well-being of older adults in our state. This initiative has led to the development of partnerships with the aging network in our state with the goal of creating more opportunities for our students, which in turn support older adults.
If faculty and staff are not supported and don’t have the resources to do their jobs well, how will they create supportive, engaging, and nurturing environments for their students? Any parent looking to send their children off to college would want and expect them to have the opportunity to work with and be inspired by faculty who are passionate about their fields and have the resources to stay current and include students in their work. They want their children to be at a university where the faculty have the time to get to know their children, mentor them, and guide them to find their true passion so that they can become competent and confident citizens making meaningful contributions to society. The growing number of adults who are attending or returning to college later in life should expect no less.
Most of our students in the state university system are Connecticut residents. They live and learn in Connecticut and are more likely to stay in Connecticut after graduation. The four regional universities are in the best position to meet the workforce needs of Connecticut, but only if faculty are provided the resources to create the right opportunities. The state universities are not factories producing workers, but rather communities of learners that must provide much more than content delivery to ensure that our students are ready to face and solve the many challenges that lie ahead. A quality university education is much more than just a degree.
Carrie Andreoletti, PhD, is a Professor of Psychological Science and Gerontology Program Coordinator at Central Connecticut State University.