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Feeling the Pressure In Higher Ed

by Francie Grace

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

"If we don't think we're going to have to reinvent ourselves, we are delusional." That's Liz Grobsmith, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Northern Arizona University, in an Inside Higher Ed interview at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities "Re-Imagining Undergraduate Education" conference last week in Chicago.

Two- and 4-year colleges across the country are facing the challenge of super-tight budgets and the need to operate more efficiently while changing the way things are done to meet the needs of today's students. There's also the fast-expanding world of for-profit institutions, which are under increased government scrutiny as they scramble to attract the hard-earned dollars of price-sensitive prospective students, and have been known to use tactics such as hard-hitting advertisements which are less likely to be associated with traditional bastions of higher learning.

Speaking at the AASCU meeting, George Mehaffy, the organization's VP for leadership and change, played a video of one well-known for-profit commercial and then laid it on the line to his audience: college provosts from across the country. This, said Mehaffy, is the time "to get serious about the process of change in American higher education. It is important that we resolve to make substantive changes -- major changes, not changes around the margins -- and that we do so with a fierce sense of urgency."

The AASCU plans a year-long process of working with campus leaders to identify a set of initiatives for institution-wide and possibly proposals for national change. Mehaffy, known for his interest in civic engagement, was effective in sparking debate among the academics on hand (and online check out the comments on Inside Higher Ed), who he has exhorted to work together for change.

We've been working on that ourselves here at Public Agenda, where we're using the tools of public engagement and public opinion research to improve access to higher education. To learn more about this, check out Changing the Conversation About Productivity: Strategies for Engaging Faculty and Institutional Leaders, a report by our Public Engagement team following up on our earlier report, Campus Commons: What Faculty, Financial Officers and Others Think About Controlling College Costs. We also recommend Squeeze Play, our study on public opinion about college costs and the college experience; Sharing the Dream, research on efforts to improve outcomes for community college students; and our series of reports on obstacles to college completion, Can I Get A Little Advice Here? and With Their Whole Lives Ahead Of Them.


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