With a personal endorsement from NBA legend Magic Johnson, University of Maryland University College (UMUC) was named Educator of the Year by the World Affairs Council of Washington, D.C., during its annual Global Education Gala on June 9.
Before an audience of more than 800 diplomats, corporate leaders, educators, and foreign policy experts, UMUC President Javier Miyares accepted the honor on behalf of the university and spoke of the "disruptive technology" in higher education that is bringing "a new level of quality and access within reach of anyone who is ready to match determination with ambition."
The council cited UMUC for bringing quality education to students around the world through both its innovative online courses and its on-site classes that reach U.S. military students in Asia and Europe.
But it was Magic Johnson, who made a special guest appearance that evening, who homed in on UMUC's special relationship to adult learners by bringing them an affordable, accessible education.
Said Johnson, UMUC accepts "people who are already working and who want to grow with the global economy." He noted that 37 percent of UMUC students are the first in their family to attend college.
"They [UMUC] have done an incredible job that's truly amazing. So I am impressed with the council for picking Javier and [UMUC]," Johnson said.
In his speech accepting the award, Miyares said that the traditional model of higher education—brick-and-mortar buildings with a professor standing before a class of students—can no longer meet the growing global demand for access to higher education at an acceptable cost.
Even in the United States, students who attend college full-time straight out of high school while living on campus—once considered traditional—are now in the minority, he said.
"Globally, the whole of higher education is being disrupted, but my perspective on disruption may differ from that of many others," Miyares said.
On July 4, 1961, a then 14-year-old Miyares fled Cuba with no money and no connections after his father was taken as a political prisoner by Fidel Castro following the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion.
"What I did have was a desire to learn, instilled in me by my parents, who were both teachers, and I had a willingness to change and adapt," said Miyares. "And here I am, a beneficiary of disruption and change, leading this university, which itself was built on a foundation of change."
UMUC was created in the post–World War II era to teach the burgeoning population of GIs returning from the war. It grew to also include those serving on military bases around the world. Every step of the university's history, right up to today, has been based on meeting the challenges created by disruption caused by social change and technological developments, Miyares said.
UMUC was among the first institutions in the world to see the potential of the Internet to make education more accessible and to bring together students "from many different cultures in the virtual classroom."
"The classroom is now untethered by time and space. That is truly global education," he said.
But, Miyares added, the university cannot rest on its past achievements. It must harness big data and use it to customize the educational experience.
"Adaptive learning—utilizing intelligent software that interacts with the student and facilitates learning—carries the promise of individualized yet scalable education," he said.
This change may upset some educators who believe technology is a distraction. But if education is to be available to the masses of people who seek it, technological changes are essential, Miyares said.
"Today, thanks in large part to technology, the Holy Grail of higher education—the nexus of access, affordability, and quality—is finally and fully within reach."
"As we embrace and harness the power of learning science and technology," concluded Miyares, "we will see the university of the future emerge as the gateway to broader opportunity and brighter horizons for all."