The First Word

Reimagining Today's Colleges

Chancellor GoldsteinEARLIER THIS YEAR, President Obama spoke at the University of Texas at Austin about his higher education plans and referred to education as "the economic issue of our time." He explained, "It's an economic issue when the unemployment rate for folks who've never gone to college is almost double what it is for those who have gone to college. Education is an economic issue when nearly eight in 10 new jobs will require work force training or a higher education by the end of this decade."

It's clear that a college degree is increasingly an economic necessity. And CUNY's record enrollments demonstrate that students know this, as well; they are eager to get a high-quality education that will prepare them for an unforgiving job market.
At the same time, the country's public higher education system is facing economic issues of its own. A headline in The Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this year described the situation in stark terms: "State Cuts Are Pushing Public Colleges Into Peril." As the article pointed out, the recession has only worsened the trend of declining state spending on higher education -- at a time when many states are also experiencing significant population growth and enrollment increases. CUNY's senior colleges alone have sustained over $205 million in state budget cuts since 2009, while adding thousands more students.

Such circumstances provoke difficult questions: How will public colleges and universities be able to continue their historic mission of access and quality? How do we ensure that students can engage in a rich academic experience without shouldering an onerous tuition burden?

Across the country, public institutions are considering a variety of responses to such questions, including reducing the required number of credits, expanding the use of academic technology, increasing faculty teaching loads, outsourcing services and advocating for greater federal investment.

Two years ago, CUNY took the lead in bringing together a group of experienced public higher education leaders to discuss the state of the public mission in this changing economic environment and to advocate for stronger investment in public institutions. This fall, we will continue this crucial conversation in the hope of stimulating bold new approaches to our postsecondary enterprise. Hosted at CUNY's Graduate School of Journalism, our November summit, "Reimagining Public Higher Education," will ask system and institutional leaders from across the country, California to Florida, to re-envision traditional college education and rethink standard financial models -- all while maintaining the quality and access that are the hallmark of this country's celebrated public system.

In his remarks in Texas, President Obama was unequivocal about the essential role of education in our country: "If we're serious about making sure America's workers -- and America itself -- succeed in the 21st century, the single most important step we can take...is to make sure that every one of our young people has the best education that the world has to offer." Our challenge -- and our nation's challenge -- is to find the resources, ingenuity and will to take that important step.

--    Matthew Goldstein, Chancellor