On the latest episode of the “We Roar” podcast, the president of The College of New Jersey, Kate Foster, opens up about what factors she’s weighing as she looks at the fall of 2020 (and beyond), how the landscape of higher education is shifting, and what new collaborations and possibilities are opening up.
Foster, who completed her Ph.D. from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 1993, became the 16th president of TCNJ in 2018, after six years as president of the University of Maine-Farmington.
Not all colleges and universities will survive this pandemic, she says in the podcast. Using the metaphor of a multicolored wildfire danger wheel, she points out that the higher education ecosystem has been stressed for a long time. “Even before coronavirus came along, that dial was moving to the right. It was moving from yellow into orange or orange into red for a bunch of colleges. There were closures. There were mergers. … And then coronavirus comes along, and the next thing you know, the place is up in flames.”
Foster also has a master’s degree in city planning from the University of California-Berkeley, which she said has helped immeasurably as she makes plans to bring TCNJ into a radically shifting future.
“If you want to continue the metaphor of forests,” she says, “in time, places will come back. And they will come back differently, presumably. The forest changes.” While it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the immediate challenges, Foster says, it’s important not to lose site of the new possibilities that are emerging as well.
“What does this moment allow in terms of opportunity? Who else out there might want to be a partner with us at a time like this? Could we be linking to a theater company or a nonprofit? … We have been bringing creative ideas into the room of decision-making. It is not all doom and gloom, by any stretch. It is about thinking about what is possible. We have made worlds possible before. What are the worlds we can make possible again?”