Three Challenges

In this new century, three forces – declining funding, rising expectations and rapidly developing technology – will profoundly challenge public higher education.  The first of the forces is economic. States will be fiscally challenged for years to come because of structural deficits and the competing demands of healthcare, prisons, and K-12 education.  A second force is rising expectations.  President Obama has set a new ambitious goal for the United States – to reclaim its lead in the world for educational attainment by 2020. The Lumina Foundation announced its “Big Goal” of sixty percent of adults with high quality degrees or certificates by 2025.  But there’s a third force that also challenges the way we in higher education operate.  I would argue that technology – the Internet, search capacities like Google, and our ability to find, aggregate, and use information in new, networked, more powerful ways – represents a profound challenge to the university as we know it.

My core thesis is simple:  resources for public universities are either declining or at least stable, with little realistic hope for recovery to previously experienced levels, yet we are being asked to serve more students, and serve them better.  It may be of only little comfort, but we are not alone.  Higher education around the world confronts the same key questions.  For example, the title of the OECD Conference in Paris this September (2010) was: “Higher Education in a World Changed Utterly: Doing More with Less.”


About George L Mehaffy

Vice President, Academic Leadership and Change at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU).
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