A Question For Patricia Brown Holmes

How can land-grant universities advocate higher education's value?

By AGB    //    Volume 26,  Number 5   //    November/December 2018

Land-grant institutions provide invaluable service in advancing their communities and the higher education sector broadly. Trusteeship spoke with Judge Patricia Brown Holmes—managing partner at the Chicago law firm Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila and a former Illinois state court judge—about the value these institutions bring to higher education. Brown Holmes, a former trustee at the University of Illinois, serves on the Leadership Group of AGB’s Guardians Initiative, which seeks to engage board members in reclaiming the value proposition of higher education and its contributions to society.

What is the evolving role of land-grant universities?

Land-grant universities were created to give children of working-class parents access to top-notch education. Although they are more than 150 years old, land-grant institutions continue their commitment to high-quality education with a distinct tilt toward practical applications. Land-grant institutions know that they exist to be responsive to the world as it is. Today, by blending the ambitious combination of world-class research and teaching with practical and applied knowledge, they remain uniquely situated to respond to the needs and dreams of the next generation, as well as the realities of their world—and, by extension, ours. They provide the access to world-class scholars and world-class students without spending world-class dollars. They stand true to their mission to educate and lead our world into the future.

How do land-grant universities remind the public of the value of higher education? 

By paying attention and adjusting to this brave new world we find ourselves in. For example, at the University of Kentucky, I saw an institution working in partnership with its students to ensure their success with more online learning opportunities and support. The university uses software that enables students to contact faculty more easily, keep track of and submit their assignments, and anticipate upcoming project deadlines. This approach is better suited to today’s students, though faculty may have to get used to this new way of doing things.

In addition, with all the talk of the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), I also see land-grant universities hiring more career counselors who can help students who have majored in other popular fields such as gender studies. Counselors, especially young, energetic ones, help students manage their experience and see the future—granted, a future that none of us can see with any degree of clarity.

How do land-grant institutions approach the recruitment of minority students, and how does that strengthen the sector?

Most private colleges recruit for diversity among only low- and middle-income minority populations. But this view is a bit short-sighted. Not all minority students are poor. Land-grant institutions recognize this reality. They understand that middle-class, upper-middle-class, and even wealthy minority families want to be recruited as well. As with all students, children of these families will thrive best in institutions that strongly represent students like them. From a socioeconomic standpoint, depriving any students the opportunity to mix with diverse students from all income levels by recruiting underrepresented minorities only from low- and moderate-income populations is a missed opportunity—especially when non-minority students are recruited from all income levels.
That is what land-grant universities, with their larger student populations and uniquely down-to-earth approach to teaching, research, and life, can do for us today.

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