Roundtable: Increasing Degree Production In An Age of Scarcity: Can Academe Respond?

Saturday, November 10, 2012: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
McKeldon (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Organizers:  William Zumeta, University of Washington
Speakers:  David W Breneman, University of Virginia, Robert Archibald, College of William and Mary, Terry Hartle, American Council on Education and William E Kirwan, University of Maryland
Moderators:  William Zumeta, University of Washington

Higher education has seen a pattern of gradual state disinvestment since 1980, punctuated by sharp cuts in public support during 2009-2012. Although the economy seems now to be improving, the deepest cuts since the Depression occurred in FY 2012 as the ARRA buffer was withdrawn. Going forward, the fact that most states face structural deficits, coupled with federal fiscal imbalances, suggests that public higher education will continue to face significant financial constraints. As in the past, colleges and universities recently turned to hefty tuition increases as state support dwindled. Real tuition has climbed so much now over such a long period–and particularly sharply since 2000–that it is questionable that "customers," or the public and those they elect, will swallow many more years of large price hikes. Yet at the same time that its traditional sources of support are constrained, the President and major philanthropies, as well as many states, have been pressing for greater degree (and certificate) production from higher education as the U.S. rapidly falls behind other developed economies in postsecondary attainment rates, according to widely touted OECD statistics. In a world where economic growth and prosperity are increasingly knowledge based, such a trend in human capital production seems gravely problematic. Can the nation's higher education system respond to the apparent need to do more with less, i.e., to produce more credentialed graduates with real per student resources unlikely to grow very much? Can this be done without debasing the quality of the human capital represented by the credentials? How can a decentralized system that no actor controls be reoriented from traditional notions that more output (or higher quality) always requires more resources per student? This roundtable will address these strategic systemic questions from several perspectives. The moderator and one panelist have recently co-authored a book on "Financing American Higher Education in the Era of Globalization" (Harvard Education Press, 2012) that offers analysis and suggestions for strategically shifting key incentives that operate within our federal system to make increased degree prouduction possible without sacrificing quality. Both have studied and written about higher education finance and policy for decades. One of them has been president of the major association for scholars of higher education and the other has been a college president and university dean. Another panelist, also an economist, has recently published an insightful and pertinent book, "Why Does College Cost So Much?"(Oxford, 2011). The third panelist has long served as a senior executive for governmental affairs with one of the major Washington higher education associations. The final panelist has been a university president and now leads a statewide university system. He has a reputation for taking innovative steps to achieve both efficiencies and greater output from the institutions he has led, while enhancing quality and even acquiring additional resources from the legislature as a result.

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