As the University celebrates its first 200 years, Virginia Magazine asked some administrators what they think UVA—and higher education—will look like in 25–50 years. Here’s what they told us.
Curry School of Education Dean Robert Pianta
Technology will transform higher education in the coming decades. It will make learning content more effective, more personalized, more efficient, and less expensive. Nearly all of the content now currently delivered through in-person instruction will be delivered through some form of digitally mediated experience. At the same time, “soft skills” such as teamwork, leadership, conflict resolution, cultural competence, resilience, and creative problem solving—all skills that draw on a person’s ability to form and maintain interpersonal relationships in applied settings—will be in exceptionally high demand. The task, and opportunity, for higher education, will be to transform organizationally and instructionally, from what is largely a system focused on content delivery to one focused far more intentionally and explicitly on the development of these soft skills as they integrate with growing knowledge and expertise in content domains. This requires re-thinking the infrastructure and faculty needed to design and shape this transformation (and not react to it) and how to leverage the strengths and value of a residential experience for the development of our students.
Professor of Politics Larry Sabato
While there are too many unknowns to confidently project any long-term reality, I’ll suggest an optimistic view and a pessimistic one. You, the reader, can choose.
The University’s quality has steadily improved in every way that can be measured—faculty productivity, student quality and diversity, alumni loyalty, etc.—and we have become the national and global leader that Jefferson hoped for. With continued admission of the very best young people, recruitment of the most talented scholars, and increased financial support from our alumni and allies, UVA should be able to accelerate its role in solving the political, economic and social problems that bedevil our country and the world.
That’s how it should be. Yet no future is guaranteed. The richness of the UVA experience depends on the existence of a diverse domestic and international faculty and student body. If the current xenophobia evident in Washington and among certain segments of the population is not repudiated, we will have great difficulty keeping and expanding a global community in Charlottesville. If some misguided folks ever get their way and significantly reduce the proportion of out-of-state students, our potential—and Jefferson’s vision—will be smashed. If our alumni cease to give generously to their alma mater, then we’ll be unable to make up for the dramatic decline in state government’s support for the University.
It’s all up to us, and future generations, to ensure that the right things happen.
Dean of Students Allen Groves
A key question for UVA in 2042 or 2067 is whether the University—and higher education more broadly—will retain a residential component to the delivery of education. In other words, will advances in (and comfort with) technology lead to a course delivery system that is wholly remote in nature, done from anywhere using whatever version of a computer exists at that time? Residential education teaches the ability to actively listen, debate and persuade in formal and informal settings. It also teaches critical social skills, including empathy, sharing, patience and tolerance. UVA’s requirement that all first-year students live together on Grounds helps prepare young adults for the broader world, including how to interact within a diverse community.
School of Medicine Dean David Wilkes
The UVA School of Medicine is on a trajectory that will place it among the elite academic research institutions of the future. As the competition for National Institutes of Health funding ratchets up and the pressure for clinical revenue tightens, we will see a reduction in the number of medical schools that can conduct competitive research programs. UVA will be one of those marquee-status institutions that will contribute to life-changing innovations in the years ahead.
University Architect Alice Raucher
Over the course of the University’s first 200 years, the physical Grounds have been transformed from Thomas Jefferson’s Academical Village, still recognized as the heart of the University’s academic and cultural life, to a vibrant, modern research university with more than 21,000 students. As we look forward to the next century, land use and campus planning take center stage in addition to design of new buildings and renovations of old ones in support of the University’s academic mission. The identity of our Grounds lies not only in the legacy of architectural and landscape excellence, but in the day-to-day personal interaction the AV was meant to induce. As the University has grown over the years, more land has been developed but with less thought about connectivity. As we plan for the next 25 or 50 years, we think about ways to renovate and repurpose our existing buildings, and develop plans for new buildings that encourage walking and chance encounters, as Mr. Jefferson originally intended.
Provost Tom Katsouleas
Higher education is undergoing the most rapid changes in its centuries-long history. There is increasing segmentation of the market and an explosion of new learning modalities. Despite the changes, students continue to show a preference for great residential and comprehensive research universities such as UVA. What they seek and I believe UVA will provide is the inspiration, insight and wisdom that faculty who are creating new knowledge can impart. In an age of commoditized knowledge, UVA I believe will strive to provide differentiated value in the form of mentored experiential learning, in which every student grows their sense of identity and agency by applying what they learn to societal challenges in the laboratory, community and around the globe. Students will benefit from new pedagogies and knowledge, but also have more opportunities to gain new skillsets and mindsets that prepare them for a meaningful and purposeful life. One thing that is not likely to change is Alexander the Great’s observation (paraphrased): To my parents I owe my life; to my teacher I owe my love of life.