The World Affairs Council of Charlotte hosted Dr. Carol Quillen, President of Davidson College on Wednesday, September 19, as part of our Speaker Series, a continued effort to educate the Charlotte community about global issues. Dr. Quillen, who earned her Ph.D. in European History from Princeton University, discussed the importance of US higher education for a global economy. She began her discussion with three questions:

  1. What must US higher education do to remain prosperous and competent in the global economy?
  2. What can US higher education distinctively do now, given the current status of the global economy?
  3. In today’s global environment, why does Davidson College matter? What is Davidson’s role?

Dr. Quillen answered her first question by declaring that higher education in this country needs to start training its young professionals for jobs that will be growing in demand in the future; we need to prepare students for jobs that exist, not jobs fading out of the global workplace. She explained how technology has reduced the cost of communication to the point where it’s virtually free, causing every workplace to be a global workplace. Every company and organization has become submerged in technology and data sets we can’t ignore – “data is everywhere,”she stated. This has led to what Dr. Quillen calls a differentiation of higher education, meaning higher ed. is becoming more diverse and available to more people. Online degrees and certifications allow a wider variety of specialized jobs that meet the needs of the marketplace.

Higher education institutions must recruit for talent, regardless of cost, in this ever-changing global economy. This means institutions such as Davidson, Duke, and UNC Chapel Hill must look for students from different backgrounds who will serve as leaders of industry and change. Dr. Quillen explained that these future leaders will have the power and knowledge to fix our troubled K-12 system, diminish poverty in cities such as Charlotte, and add more value to civic life. Higher education can accomplish a great deal provided that there is energetic thinking within institutions and a fresh outlook on curriculum and how that translate in a global economy.

According to Dr. Quillen, Davidson College, a highly ranked liberal arts college, plays a proactive role in the development of this energetic thinking. Davidson educates its students in a manner that trains them for the demands of the future. Training of this sort will propel future professionals into the global economic market. However, we must not solemnly focus on higher education, but elementary and middle education as well. By nurturing the skills students have and instilling a love of learning, Davidson is taking responsibility for the success of the K-12 system in the US. This is the system that is currently laying the basic foundations for future professionals and entrepreneurs. Davidson, using its resources and influence to strengthen and reform the K-12 system, will stand out as one of the most responsible institutions in training future generations for the global workforce.

After answering her own three questions, emphasizing education as the major determining factor of economic global success, Dr. Quillen ended her speech with a few facts that highlighted some of the major issues the US is experiencing in education. She described the number of declining male students entering college as something of great concern. Lesser young men enroll in universities year after year, leading to decreased interest in math, physics, and biology, the areas of study which are growing in demand and are the basis for the future workplace. Without resolving these issues, our ability to stay on top of the global economy will weaken. If the United States is to remain an active global economic leader, it must change how it prepares and educates students for jobs of high demand in years to come.

Summary written by Luis Rodriguez, UNC Charlotte (International PR major)