Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Private Higher Education is Being Called to the Table: Connecting the Dots


Consider these three recent events.                                     
  1. 1.       William Tierney, a highly respected educational policy analyst calls for a partnership between private non-profits and for-profits in California. Why? Because he thinks it is the only practical way to fill the gap between the growing demand for higher education and the supply the state can provide on its own.  With funding cuts and enrollment caps at Califiornia’s community college and university systems, the gap is widening steadily.
  2. 2.       The British government has recently been forced to enact severe budget reductions that impacted their higher education system significantly.  And it will shortly release a much-discussed White Paper on the future and more significant role of proprietary institutions in the UK.
  3. 3.       And Adelaide, Australia welcomes Kaplan and Laureate, among others, to participate in its “Higher Education Hub”.

Certainly, each of these situations has its own history and peculiarities. More intriguing to me, however, is connecting the dots to see what they have in common. And, as I reflected on possible commonalities, I came up with several which I have categorized as “Pushes” and “Pulls” that lead to a new balance between public non-profit, private n0n-profits, and the private for-profits in higher education.

The “Pushes” have two main characteristics.
  • ·         First, there is not enough money at the state and federal level to continue the traditional funding models at traditional public post-secondary institutions. So California, with declining revenues and soaring deficits, increased tuition and stagnant state aid, and enrollment caps, needs assistance to sustain its historic commitment  to access and attainment for the state’s middle and working class populations. William Tierney sees value in bringing the added capacity of the private for-profit and non-profit institutions to the table. He understands that the clock is ticking on California’s future. And, if the access and attainment agenda goes sideways or backwards over the next several years, the state will pay a steep social, civic, and economic price far into the future. This pushes private non-profit and for-profit institutions into the middle of the access and attainment stage.
  • ·         Second, behind the daily news, the traditional higher education model has reached its limits of efficiency and effectiveness. It is expensive to maintain and develop the human and physical resources on campuses so that they are up-to-date and effective. That includes both the salaries for good faculty and support staff and the capital required to perform maintenance. Thinking about purchasing and installing modern technology and equipment is another order of magnitude more difficult. And, as California has discovered with its new UC at Merced, the cost of expanding the current model is prohibitive. Consider the British. As the British government has slashed budgets, including university budgets, they are forced to look everywhere for new solutions as well. So, the White Paper contemplates a broader role for proprietary institutions in that arena as well.

Coinciding with the Pushes, the “Pulls” are equally interesting.
  • ·         First, higher education is not only good for business, it IS business. In our country, Silicon Valley, Route 128, and the Raleigh-Durham corridor are proof positive of that. And when you add to those positives the growing need for additional education to support the “knowledge society”, one consequence is an environment that cannot allow educational access, attainment, and completion rates to decline. Indeed the opposite is required. So, Adelaide, Australia commits to becoming a “Higher Education Hub”, in which every type of accredited institution is welcome. Their motives include both generating a sustained growth curve in educational attainment while continuing to attract foreign students to attend college down under.
  • ·         Second, technology and web 2.0 herald the opening of a new era in many areas, including higher education. There must be innovation to plumb the depths and extent of the opportunity that these new forces provide. They give us the capacity to do far more, with higher consistency and quality, for less money per success story. So, just as the costs of maintaining, let alone expanding, the traditional model soar out of sight,  and its effectiveness is being questioned, solutions that have the ability to  increase effectiveness and efficiency, provide greater personalization and customization, and attain greater consistency  – all at lower prices – emerges. 

 What Tierney, the Brits, and the Aussies share in common is a practical desire to stabilize public investment so that it can be managed and controlled over time,  while expanding opportunity to previously un-served populations. There are fairly simple, and practical ways to do just that, including the California Completion Coalition that I proposed in an earlier blog. The interesting thing is that using the strengths of technology and social networking, we can, together, offer cost-effective solutions to this problem that leave the publicly financed institutions  filled to capacity while assuring that other students have the opportunity to access and graduate from college as well. All it takes is a willingness to be transparent and to work together in a respectful way.

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