WASHINGTON -- Despite a nascent economic recovery, education advocates, policymakers and other leaders continue to sound concerns over U.S. higher education's long-term viability and productivity. Foremost among current worries is the financial stability of colleges and universities, particularly now that federal stimulus support has dried up. Even while President Obama talks about boosting U.S. college completion rates to increase the nation's global competitiveness, private and public institutions continue to struggle economically.
On March 18, Diverse: Issues In Higher Education convened an expert panel to answer the question "How Can Higher Education Solve its Financial Problems?" Diverse co-founder Frank Matthews and Diverse editor Toni Coleman moderated a nearly two-hour roundtable discussion among seven panelists held at the headquarters of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) in downtown Washington, D.C.
While its theme centered on higher education's financial health, the wide-ranging conversation touched upon issues as varied as the institution accountability movement, federal involvement in higher education and the future of minority-serving institutions. Participants were Lezli Baskerville, president and CEO, National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education; Kevin Carey, policy director, Education Sector; Dr. Lorenzo Esters, vice president, Office for Access and the Advancement of Public Black Universities, APLU; Steve Graubart, managing director of finance, University of the District of Columbia; Dr. Marshall Grigsby, president, Grigsby and Associates, LLC; Cheryl Hitchcock, vice president of institutional advancement, Morgan State University; and Jane Wellman, executive director, Delta Project on Postsecondary Costs, Productivity and Accountability.
The following are highlights from the discussion:
Diverse: What are some of the more innovative strategies that you have seen college leaders develop and implement in response to the recession?
LORENZO ESTERS: I would just say two things. I think the one thing we've learned from the economic downturn is that entrepreneurial leadership is extremely important, perhaps more important today than any time in recent history. Particularly as we see the decrease in state funding, it is important that institutions should be working with foundations more, be more competitive with grants and some of the nontraditional sources of funding.
The other thing we have to do is ensure that our institutions are being responsive to the workforce needs. It is important for institutions to review institutional and academic programs to ensure that we are providing programs that are in high demand.
JANE WELLMAN: I think we are seeing much more attention to the need to restructure academic programs than we've ever seen before. The evidence of how bad it is hasn't yet bubbled up as much as it needs to. I think this is serious. The work that's being done on the administrative side--like purchasing, like how we're dealing with energy costs--is pretty deep. There is a lot of money that's being found in improvements in services and efficiencies.
Academic program restructuring is pretty serious. It's not just about cutting budgets. It's about reinvesting and finding ways to generate resources to put into those places that are going to make a difference in academic performance.
MARSHALL GRIGSBY: These are challenging times for higher education in general, certainly for institutions that are under-resourced and institutions that began so far behind in terms of the funding from state, federal, and private sources. But even in the midst of all of those challenges, our institutions have been resilient. They are, they have been, and I suspect, will continue to be resilient because they've continued to have people with tremendous capacity and vision at the helm. …