The Value Proposition for Houghton in the Age of AI

March 8, 2024

As we consider and work toward a vibrant, flourishing and continually relevant Houghton University into the future, I have been drawn into reading and conversation related to the future of work, workforce skills and education in the age of AI (artificial intelligence). This is not a new topic but one that is having greater significance for Houghton and the future of work and learning.

I first began to seriously wrestle with this topic a few years ago after reading Joseph Aoun’s 2018 book, Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. Aoun’s central point was that AI, through robots and software, will significantly transform the workforce and the economy in ways that are difficult to fathom. AI will have profound implications for education, specifically higher education. After my first read of Robot-Proof, I had little doubt that Aoun was correct. At that time, I served the Commonwealth of Kentucky as Commissioner of Education. While our commonwealth boasted one of the highest high school graduation rates in the country, graduates routinely received high school diplomas without even basic skills in reading and mathematics. That reality was shameful and untenable. Aoun’s insights and arguments were instrumental in our work to revise Kentucky’s minimum high school graduation requirements with a desire to ensure that every young person graduating with a high school diploma had a minimally adequate skillset for obtaining employment and, ideally, a foundation upon which they could build a life, a career and economic independence.

Now, in 2024, as I serve Houghton University as president, we know Aoun’s assertions were correct. The world is experiencing a paradigm shift in workforce and education as disruptive and transformative as the Industrial Revolution. The implications for higher education are clear. Traditional curriculum and approaches to instruction will not be adequate for preparing students for the careers of today and tomorrow. Many of the jobs and careers of yesteryear that awaited college graduates and paid salaries sufficient for building middle- and upper-middle-class lives are now being eliminated, automated or completed by machines equipped with AI. There will certainly be jobs to fill, but the opportunities that will await Houghton graduates will require creativity, interdisciplinary thinking and problem solving, global and cultural competence, leadership of diverse teams of people, and ethical and effective use of AI in and across diverse fields.

Houghton continues to be well positioned to prepare students for the career realities and expectations of this age. We have long appreciated and extoled the virtues of a Christian liberal arts and sciences education—one grounded in Biblical truth and centered on the Gospel. While not a pure liberal arts college—offering only undergraduate majors in traditional liberal arts disciplines—Houghton University continues to ground every undergraduate degree program with a multidisciplinary core in the liberal arts and sciences. Our liberal arts and sciences core provides depth and breadth within and across disciplines. It challenges students to think and problem solve in ways similar to what will be expected of them in their vocational callings. Whether a Houghton graduate has earned a degree in music education, the visual arts, writing or applied physics, each student will have been exposed to and wrestled with the body of literature, music, philosophy, natural sciences and art that has shaped thinkers and leaders for centuries. Further, Houghton’s time-tested approach to spiritual and educational formation helps to anchor students in their Christian faith and prepare them to respond to a dynamic workforce and economy in the age of AI.

In this moment, as higher education adapts to meet the current and future realities of a rapidly changing global economy, I am excited about Houghton’s future and convinced that Houghton’s brand of unapologetic Christ-centered excellence has as much or more appeal to prospective students and families than ever before. Houghton is well positioned to maintain its standard of excellence and continue preparing students to be salt and light in their communities and excel in this new and dynamic economy. This is our mission. This is our calling.