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 topic of transformational change in higher education has become increasingly prevalent over recent years. The reasons are many, including daunting fiscal and demographic challenges; institutional opportunities presented by new technologies; the growth of the learning industry; increased competition for faculty and students; higher expectations and changing demands from a wide and diverse group of stakeholders; and the need to adapt institutional structures to new teaching roles, learning preferences, and research and outreach missions.
For centuries, education has been valued as a means to critical thinking and scientific inquiry. Over time, additional benefits have become increasingly clear, and especially the economic benefits to individuals and society overall. Measuring the learning outcomes of higher education has proven to be more difficult, however, but is progressing through initiatives such as the National Forum for College-Level Learning. Many challenges exist in this rapidly changing world in which knowledge has become the standard currency and higher education struggles for the financial means to supply it.