Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Clark: If you build it…

by BIZ Magazine

In one of my all-time favorite movies, Field of Dreams (1989), Kevin Costner plays an Iowa farmer named Ray Kinsella. Ray has fallen on hard times, but while standing in his corn field one day he sees a vision of a baseball field, accompanied by a voice telling him, “If you build it, he will come.” Like many famous movie quotes, the line is commonly misremembered, in this case as, “If you build it, they will come.” Either way, the message is the same, and its poignance resonates through many facets of our lives.  

When I returned to LSUS to become the Chancellor, there were numerous challenges facing the university. Many of our facilities were in desperate need of upgrading, our community and corporate partnerships were lagging, and our face-to-face enrollment numbers were trending in the wrong direction. Education in the state had taken a huge hit through the economic downturn, and the road back seemed long and uncertain. Even with these challenges I saw many opportunities, particularly with the strength of the faculty and staff at LSUS, and the potential for us to be a strong regional academic and community hub due to our location and unique campus offerings. 

In previous columns I’ve written extensively about the positive changes we have made (and are continuing to make) at the university. We’ve added new facilities and technology throughout campus, which we have strategically tied into our curriculum design. We’ve welcomed the community back to campus for small and large-scale events and are working diligently to enhance our corporate relationships and better serve K-12 throughout the Shreveport/Bossier region. Our success in online instruction has allowed us to excel in unpredictable times, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But our work is far from over. As Chancellor, I am still focused on the evolution of the LSUS campus to better attract face-to-face students, and better serve K-12 and this region. I take inspiration from Field of Dreams: Ray Kinsella faced huge obstacles along the way (both external and internal), but ultimately “they” came. 

The question for us, particularly as we try to attract Gen Z students, is, “Will just building it be enough?” Academia is facing a crossroads as it tries to adapt to a changing market with a new generation of students who want more evidentiary data on the value of a college education. This is also a generation that doesn’t want to be told only that you offer the biggest and shiniest thing, but that it is worth its price and relevant. I think all of us, no matter what industry we are in, are having to adapt in some way to attract and retain customers from this vital demographic segment. 

Therefore, every improvement or addition we make on campus is geared toward an outcome-focused philosophy. Rather than just telling prospective students what degree they can earn at LSUS we try to show them what career paths are available with that degree program. We are also attempting to blend technology into our instruction across all academic disciplines, with an eye towards Digital Dexterity, which is prized among 21st-century employers. The workplace is evolving rapidly through technology and large-scale cultural and societal shifts, compounded by environmental changes and events such as the pandemic. It is incumbent upon all educational institutions to make these evolutionary leaps as well if we are to give our students the opportunities to thrive upon graduation. 

So, like Ray Kinsella, I believe “they” will continue to come to LSUS, if we continue to build. But the rapid changes in our business, social, and environmental landscapes challenge all of us in higher education to go one step further. We must build thoughtfully and strategically, with an eye for not just today, but also for well into the future.     

Larry Clark | Chancellor of LSUS