November 1, 2013
Last week I chaired the fall meeting of the Association of American Universities (AAU), an organization of 62 leading research universities. Tulane has been a member of this association since 1958.
There were three interrelated themes that permeated this year’s meeting. One was the inability of our government to reach long-term agreements on the budget and debt ceiling. Second, was the impact the federal government’s declining investment in scientific research and development could have on our country’s economic growth and global competitiveness.
Finally, we discussed whether higher education is facing or will face significant changes in the future, necessitating rethinking of our mission, strategy and operations. There was strong consensus that seismic shifts were occurring, which were likely to have an impact on all colleges and universities.
Disruptive technologies and questions about college affordability, accessibility, accountability and value must be addressed. There are also questions about whether the financial model of higher education is sustainable, especially in a world where expenses will outstrip revenues unless new sources can be tapped and productivity increased.
Fortunately for Tulane, we have been studying these issues for several years and are well positioned to adapt to what is likely to be a “new normal” in higher education.
We know the United States has the strongest and most respected higher education system in the world, but we also know that we cannot take this system for granted. Change will occur. The only question is whether the transformation will occur proactively or will be the result of crisis. Those institutions like Tulane who are proactive will weather the sea change and be stronger and better for the effort. All others are likely to diminish in quality, strength and influence.
Given their importance for Tulane and all of higher education, I will continue to focus on these issues for the remainder of my presidency and thereafter. If our country is to continue to grow and prosper, it needs a vibrant and outstanding education system, PreK-16 and beyond.