In his 10th and final year as president of Harper College in Palatine, Ken Ender called on Schaumburg Business Association members to help him carry on the work of saving the American dream for generations of young people to come beyond next June.
“It’s in trouble,” he told them Tuesday. “The stakes are so high.”
Though Ender knows next summer will bring the end of his 21 years as a college president, he’s convinced he’ll find a new role to advocate for the evolution of education.
Leaving high school both college- and career-ready will be an essential ingredient in every American’s ability to achieve a middle-class lifestyle, he said.
But no educational institution is able to achieve that goal alone, he added.
Leadership through innovation has four pillars — partnerships, affordability, fiscal stewardship and planning for the future, Ender said. He called on business community members to be leaders able to ensure area institutions come together to achieve even the first pillar.
Such partnerships are what enabled the Harper Promise program, which offers students free tuition at the college in recognition of their academic achievement in high school and community service, Ender said.
Good management and confidence in its resources are other key factors in effective leadership, he added. Though he professed his own pain in the biannual property tax bills, Ender said such funding is the source of educational institutions’ ability to serve the public.
One of the biggest challenges to the future of education in the state is the geographical boundaries that separate one school district or community college and its finances from the next, he said.
“I cannot think of a more inefficient way to allocate resources,” Ender proclaimed.
But he envisioned technology as a way to overcome some of that challenge. One example he cited would be the possibility school districts west of Chicago and east of Rockford to someday share some of their instruction via technology without losing their own individual brands and identities.
But as with many human systems, he imagined such a leap would be made only when such institutions find it impossible to carry on without it.
“We don’t change until we absolutely have to,” Ender said. “Technology, that’s where I think we’re going as an industry.”
Looking back at all that’s been achieved at Harper during the past decade, up to the recent opening of the $41 million Foglia Foundation Health and Recreation Center, Ender said he hopes his yet-unnamed successor also spends at least that long at the college. To make necessary long-term changes, he or she will probably require three or four years getting the lay of the land before enacting them, he believes.
But more than ever before, higher education is a commodity most people know they need to build a life in America, Ender said. While college was once a place young people went to come of age, any visitor to Harper today would see only grown-ups, he added.
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