While working in admissions at Williams College, Mark Robertson started to grapple with some of the big issues facing colleges today like access and affordability, diversity, internationalization, and curricular relevance. As he considered the next step in his career, a mentor suggested giving the Ed School a shot. It was only natural that Robertson looked to the Higher Education Program (HEP) as a way to mix theory and practice as he struggled to find answers to some of those big issues facing colleges today.
"Mark has been an outstanding student this year and has been actively engaged in all aspects of the Higher Education Program," says HEP Program Director and Professor Judy McLaughlin. "His intellectual curiosity, compassion, modesty, and generosity have won him the respect and affection of his faculty and fellow students. A classmate who nominated him for this award wrote that Mark's 'brilliance and passion are inspirational.'"
Upon being honored with the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for the HE Program, Robertson answered some questions about his time at the Ed School.
Did you have a favorite class at HGSE? [Associate Professor] Bridget Terry Long's class, The Economics of Colleges and Universities, last fall really stood out, and I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the larger trends driving higher education today. She's a magnificent teacher. It's truly remarkable that she covered as much material as she did -- and she held us responsible for connecting every bit of it! The discussions in this class helped us understand the "strange" economics of higher education and challenged us always to remember these complexities when thinking about higher educational policy.
Is there any professor who significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School? [Professor] Judy McLaughlin is the heart and soul of the HGSE Higher Education Program. She is an incredible teacher and facilitator and was a wonderful mentor to me and to so many others this year. She always finds time to talk over ideas, and she has the rare ability to identify and cultivate others' strengths and to connect them those who are like-minded.
What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career in education? My big takeaway from HGSE is that while American higher education is always changing -- now, as much as ever before -- there are core values worth protecting. Future institutional leadership will involve reconciling the opportunities arising from increasingly nontraditional student bodies in a global information economy with traditional academic identities. Put in a different way, in an increasingly competitive market, leaders will have to resolve how to distinguish their institutions without distorting their values.
If you could change one thing about education today, what would it be? College access is something my cohort mates and I spent a lot of time thinking about this year. While there aren't many easy answers, research shows that simplifying the FAFSA application for federal financial aid would probably make a difference. This form alone is a real barrier for many low-income and first-generation families. A much shorter version could capture most of the variation in families' ability to pay for college and eliminate one hurdle for college enrollment.
What advice do you have for next year's HEP students? I'd give them three pieces of advice: First, spend as much time as possible learning from your cohort mates. They've lived the topics you're studying.
Second, take a class or two outside of higher education as electives. I had the great pleasure of taking an economics class with a big group from the International Education Policy Program in the fall. We all have much to learn from those studying vastly different aspects of education.
Finally, remember that the issues are big and pulling them apart and putting them back together takes awhile. Treat HGSE as a starting place to understanding them.