Smart Leadership in Difficult Times

January 2010
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Higher education, like other sectors of the economy, continues to address the challenges posed by the recession. Concurrently, colleges and universities are facing the challenges of access, cost and effectiveness in providing higher education to a growing population of potential students, most of whom do not resemble the stereotypical freshman straight from high school. In November 2009, the TIAA Institute hosted Smart Leadership in Difficult Times, a conference focused on uncovering new strategies in a resource-constrained environment to address such challenges now and in the future. The economic success of individuals and the U.S, economy as a whole, as well as the vitality of America’s democracy, is more dependent than ever in a global society on the ability of higher education to fulfill its core missions of education, research and service. Several common themes emerged from the presentations and dialogue. There will be no return to the pre-recession status quo in higher education. The new normal for colleges and universities consists of a continued resource-constrained environment as public funding remains tight, fundraising remains difficult, endowments recover slowly, and pressures mount against continued tuition increases at current rates. The new normal simultaneously entails innovating to meet the need for higher education among a growing population of potential students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, many of whom are ill-prepared for a college education and unaware of how to access it, as well as a population of students returning to college mid-career to retool or reinvent themselves for the labor market. Such innovations will involve partnerships with the k-12 sector, as well as partnerships and coordination between 2-year and 4-year institutions. It will also involve rethinking the development and delivery of curriculums to a new generation of students that communicates and learns differently than any prior generation. Engaging faculty will be crucial to the success of any change strategy.