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Exploring the Challenges and Opportunities Facing Higher Education
New Issue Brief from William G. Bowen

Rutgers University is marking its 250th anniversary this year with, among other activities, a series of lectures on the future of higher education. Opening the series on April 7, William G. Bowen, president emeritus of Princeton University and president emeritus of The Andrew W. Mellon foundation, and now valued advisor to ITHAKA, delivered a lecture on “Issues Facing Major Research Universities at a Time of Stress AND Opportunity.”  Drawing from his recently published Lesson Plan: An Agenda for Change in American Higher Education, co-authored with Michael S. McPherson, Bowen identified the primary sources of stress for public institutions: shrinking resources, especially when measured on a per student basis, and rising expectations from the public that universities will solve pressing national needs. These expectations include higher completion rates for undergraduates coupled with shorter time-to-degree; a marked reduction in disparities in educational outcomes associated with socioeconomic status; and greater success in controlling increases in costs while maintaining the quality of education. In addition, the country looks to leading graduate programs to continue to provide a fresh generation of intellectual leadership.

Amid these stresses, Bowen points out that there are also enormous opportunities for public universities, as they have a singular capacity to meet many societal needs. This paper provides a high-level view of how public universities can deliver on their promise, despite the hurdles they must overcome. Please take a closer look, and we invite your comments here. Ithaka S+R is also co-hosting an event with the Urban Institute in Washington DC on April 21, where Lesson Plan co-author McPherson and a panel of experts will discuss a related set of issues. We hope to see you there.

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