Smart Leadership for Higher Education in Difficult Times
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Smart Leadership for Higher Education in Difficult Times

Edited by David W. Breneman and Paul J. Yakoboski

As the US economy emerges from the severest recession in a generation, large questions regarding its long-term ramifications for higher education remain unanswered. In fact, the harshest effects of the economic downturn are likely ahead as campus leadership focuses on enrollment, affordability and fundraising. This volume of essays examines the challenges and opportunities for advancing higher education’s core missions of education, research and service in a resource-constrained environment.
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Chapter 10: The ‘New Normal’: Prospects for Postsecondary Education in the Twenty-first Century

Bobby Fong


10. The “new normal”: prospects for postsecondary education in the twenty-first century Bobby Fong Like the law, higher education is deeply conservative in its processes. Faced with a question, faculty and administrators recur to established procedures and precedents, whether they lie in disciplinary modes of inquiry or models of best practice. In the main, this is consistent with academia’s role as a steward of knowledge established over time through inquiry and disputation. In the current economic environment, it is natural to hope that as America has weathered previous recessions to emerge stronger and more competitive, that it will do so again. But history and precedent may not be the best guide this time around. The Dow Jones went from a historic high of 14,164 on October 9, 2007, to a trough of 6,547 on March 9, 2009. More recently it has recovered enough to breach 10,500. However, the downturn was precipitated by the bursting of a bubble compounded of inflated real estate and credit markets. The market may be adjusting for a truer valuation of assets, but investment values may not recover for years to come. At colleges where programs had been funded extensively by draws from endowment which have lost as much as 30 percent of their value, the prospect of maintaining previous levels of operation becomes unrealistic. State support for higher education was declining as a percentage of operating budgets even before the downturn. The downturn itself has reduced state revenues, and most states have...

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