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FIU professor offers thoughts on the future of higher education

by Monica Smith

Jul 22, 2020, 9:00 AM.

Norma Martin Goonen says societal and institutional changes will shape universities as well as the student and faculty experience in five specific ways.

Norma Goonen, who is a clinical associate professor of the graduate programs in higher education administration, says she is not worried about the viability or resilience of public institutions in the wake of COVID-19.

“Public institutions and their administrators are smart and will help faculty and students with this new normal,” she asserts. 

With an education career that spans more than four decades, Goonen teaches several courses, including the history of higher education administration and legal issues in higher education. A first-generation Cuban-American living in Miami for most of her life, Goonen holds an Ed.D. in higher education and is passionate about her students.

Changes are coming

“There will be changes in higher education,” affirms Goonen, who feels that many of the changes will be positive ones.

Having lived through the 1960s and seen the unrest associated with the women’s and civil rights movement, the Vietnam war protests, the Kent State shootings, we may have thought we had created significant progress, but #MeToo, COVID-19, and George Floyd have shown us we’re not quite there yet, she explains.

“We still have a long way to go,” she states, “but there are parallels that can be drawn between historical events and today’s circumstances that can help us to put things into perspective.”

Adapting is key

Goonen was part of the first graduating class of Florida International University. Since those early days, she’s been on the administration and faculty side of higher education. She was provost of academic and student affairs for Miami Dade College and has also been an associate dean, dean, and vice president of academic affairs at other institutions.  

“We’re living history and we’re making history,” says Goonen, who teaches both face-to-face and online courses for the graduate degree in higher education administration. 

From her experience, she believes the agenda for higher education administration is to adapt to our new normal. Goonen offers a grim prediction for smaller, private schools that are unable to pivot. 

“Not every institution will survive COVID-19,” she confirms. “Some will cease to exist if they cannot create the enrollment needed or offer online learning and there may also be reduced choices because of systemic changes in higher education.”

The solution, she says, is for institutions to merge societal and institutional changes to create something new. She discusses five areas that institutions will have to focus on to survive, thrive, and serve student populations.


  1.     Technology

“Pre-Zoom, things were much more archaic,” says Goonen, and advises those in higher education not to be afraid of new technology. Zoom and online learning have offered new opportunities.

One of the positive results of the present crisis will be that faculty as well as students will have opportunities to improve their teaching and learning in an online environment—even those students and faculty who would have never chosen to try the medium, she explains. 

“Faculty members new to online teaching may find, as I did years ago when I began teaching online, that you can develop a bond with your students in an electronic medium,” Goonen declares.


  1.     Safety

While safety for institutions is always a consideration, with COVID-19 there are new things to be concerned with. Online learning offered continuity when COVID-19 forced higher education institutions to pause face-to-face instruction. In the future, more schools will have online components for education continuity and safety.

“Online learning won’t replace face-to-face learning, but it will be essential,” highlights Goonen.


  1.     Flexibility

The rapid changeover to remote learning in response to COVID-19 occurred for faculty and students in a matter of days. This has made the higher education community much more flexible with respect to remote learning and hybrid modalities. Goonen insists that institutions have learned to be flexible and incorporate best practices. Working from home will be the biggest change, says Goonen, and going forward, faculty will be flexible with Zoom office hours, for example. 


  1.     Responsiveness

Many disciplines have become responsive and changed curricula to reflect new societal realities. Institutions will continue to position themselves as centers for lifelong learning; however, they will also have to be responsive to students to help them continue their momentum so they can graduate on time. 


  1.     Resilience

Goonen notes that being adaptable to the current health emergency has been costly. With this new normal, institutions must find new ways to work around problems, funding, and regulations.

“Resilient institutions like FIU will always find new ways to do what they have to do,” she concludes and outlines ideas on pushing education forward through continued access to online learning.

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