February, 2-4, 2019

IFCU was represented at ACCU’s 2019 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., Feb. 2 to 4. The main theme of the event was “Securing Catholic Education for the Future”.
Both the plenary and concurrent sessions raised many questions that were particularly in tune with the current concerns of higher education professionals in general and of Catholic higher education actors in particular. Speakers underscored the opportunities but also the sustainability and even viability challenges that American Catholic institutions of higher learning are currently facing, in a difficult context of declining religious practice, a shrinking Catholic base, and negative perceptions among the broad public both of the Catholic Church and of the ‘market’ value of higher education.
Equal emphasis was thus put on what changing times require in terms of adapting the academic and training offer, and on ways to promote Catholic identity in this problematic environment. One dominant concern was how Catholic higher education can demonstrate its continued relevance, and the key answer suggested was the need to challenge misconceptions about what Catholic universities and colleges have to offer by finding the appropriate narratives and identifying the learning and teaching strategies that will allow enrolled students to acquire the competitive skills of tomorrow.
In summary, American colleges and universities were told to become more proactive in shaping the future rather than just react to changes. Among key recommendations were the promotion of liberal arts as essential to preparing students for the jobs of the future; the reliance on Catholic identity to ensure that the educational experience encompasses the full spectrum of students’ lives, beyond curricula and learning outcomes toward their role in the community and the development of their personal and spiritual being; and the expansion of online graduate-degree programs with a view to increasing revenue and strengthening the Catholic mission.
ACCU’s 2019 Annual Meeting was a thought-provoking event that made for lively and fruitful exchanges between the speakers and the audience, especially in the concurrent sessions.