Redefining a College Education: President Fernández’s Vision for Lehman’s Future

Dr. Ricardo R. Fernández, President of Lehman College, outlined a bold vision for the future of higher education and the future of Lehman College during his keynote address at the College’s annual Convocation on September 18.

“The challenges to higher learning have never been greater than they are right now in the 21stcentury,” he told the audience of faculty, staff, and students. “A college education has never been more important, and that is why we need to discuss the value of an education—and, to be perfectly frank, to redefine what a college education means.”

The President likened the changes to higher education to a revolution that Lehman College must prepare for, if it is to thrive in the 21st century. The College, he noted, is off to a good start: while admissions are down on many campuses, Lehman has its strongest freshman class this fall, in over 20 years. The College also remains ranked a Tier 1 institution among regional universities in the northeast for the fourth year in a row according to U.S. News and World Report, as well as being classified as one of the northeast’s Top 40 public colleges. Dr. Fernández also noted that in these challenging times, Lehman College was once again ranked No. 5 of all northern regional colleges—public or private—for students graduating with the least amount of debt.

Diving into the national debate on the meaning and value of a college education, Dr. Fernández said that there were three areas that the College must focus on in the future. “Lehman College is working to ensure that an education is more versatile than ever; the classes are more innovative, and our outlook on the world more global than ever before,” he said. Today’s college graduates can expect to have as many as a dozen jobs in their careers. “That is why we must prepare students, not just for their first job – but also for their fifth, or their tenth job.”

While Lehman College leads all CUNY schools with the number of online courses—15 percent of the College’s classes are taught entirely or partly online—he told the faculty that they must continually grow with technology. “Digital ‘natives’ learn differently, so our teaching methods must evolve in order to promote learning among students,” said Dr. Fernández, who is entering his 24th year as President.

Dr. Fernández noted that as technology renders national borders increasingly irrelevant, students must have a more global-outlook. It is with this principle in mind that the College recently signed a student exchange program with Nanyang Polytechnic in Singapore as well as a number of scholarship students from Brazil who are studying the STEM fields. “In the 21st century, being bilingual or multilingual will be a distinct advantage, just as failing to understand the diversity of the world will put students at a disadvantage,” he said. “Fortunately for us, we are situated in the Bronx—one of the most diverse counties in the United States, so in that sense many of our students have a home field advantage.”

The President quoted slain African-American activist Malcolm X to drive home his point. “‘The future,’ Malcolm X said, ‘belongs to those who prepare for it today.'”