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Podcast: Colleges must do more with less

A Denver audience on Wednesday got an uncomfortable message about the future of higher education from Patrick Callan, president of a California-based think tank.

Key points made by Callan during his talk and in a meeting with reporters include:

• “This is a really difficult time. … We are in kind of a transitional era,” he said, summing up the demographic changes, future workforce needs and financial crisis facing colleges and universities.

• More public financial support of higher education is needed, “But I don’t think we can wait for it. … The idea that we’ll restore the status quo and then do these other things is not a realistic view of the world. … We need to think about transformation rather than restoration.”

• Higher education leaders should not assume that continued tuition increases will provide a sustainable financial model, or that future students will be willing to take on high levels of loan debt. “We can’t get there through the tuition model.”

• As public funding shrinks, it must be used much more strategically to advance statewide goals such as growth in the educated workforce, Callan said.

“Nobody has a good model” for the future of higher education, he said. “We have small solutions on the table for large problems.”

But he suggested tactics could include acceleration of student completion, redesign of courses to make greater use of technology, better reintegration of adult learners returning to higher education and more faculty collaboration. “We need to move the whole system more toward competency.”

Fixing higher education, Callan said, is “about the survival of the middle class.”

Callan spoke to a group of about 50 people at an event sponsored by the Bell Policy Center. His talk touched on issues raised at a recent higher education summit of state leaders, where a majority of participants expressed doubts about the possibility of making higher education reforms without increased public funding (see story).

Todd Engdahl, Capitol editor of Education News Colorado, spoke with Callan about the challenges facing higher education in Colorado and nationwide. The podcast linked above includes Engdahl’s overall question and Callan’s response, which was edited for clarity and length.

Callan is president of the Higher Education Policy Institute.

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