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The Rise of the Public University

The Rise of the Public University

By Randy Best

Higher education’s economic model is pressured by an oversupply of more than 4,000 post-secondary institutions, high delivery costs, tuition discounting and declining public subsidies. It seems clear that public universities must continue to evolve, and do so more rapidly than before.

Future success most definitely will include a global component, as more and more universities come to realize that the geographical boundaries of the old-school approach are giving way – and that “going global” offers a means to offset the continuing march of budget cuts and resource limitations. Public universities still have a historical responsibility to educate their home state. But with the advent of sophisticated online communications, higher education has the possibility to move out into the wider world. Indeed, true globalization is about more than just importing foreign students to campus or arranging fleeting semesters overseas. Now, it can mean exporting American knowledge to the rest of the world.

An essential part of the solution lies in the source of the challenge: online technology. Indeed, the most rapidly developing trend in higher education is the utilization of network technology to deliver instruction around the world. Every year, more institutions look to benefit from this global phenomenon – with varying levels of success. Crafting a strategy to leverage the vast potential of online learning should make higher education more accessible and affordable.

When the dust settles, some schools will have adapted more quickly than others, and some will be major winners. Successes in the new global higher education order will go to public universities that have acted with urgency to reposition themselves, embrace the inevitable changes underway and overcome battles aimed at preserving an unsustainable status quo. Universities that are responsive to change will become almost unassailable competitors. They are like sleeping giants that have awakened with a new vision to become super schools. The new public university stays true to their original purpose of educating willing and able students within their own states. But they now see the whole country and beyond as a service area, and with the support of their staff and boards, they are determined to do what is necessary to prosper in an environment of extreme competition and growing globalization.

But converting traditional degree programs and certificates into an online format, recruiting qualified students and supporting enrolled students through graduation often stretch an institution’s capabilities. Consequently, many public universities turn to global partners who already have in place an international network that greatly expands their reach and allows them to access outstanding global talent.

American higher education, and in particular public universities, can attain a new level of global competitiveness and social responsibility. And in prospering as institutions, they can sustain the local educational opportunities envisioned in their original missions. By using their remarkable assets and offering them globally, they have the ability to change the world through access, affordability and high quality, raising the educational bar around the globe. It is this very pursuit of big dreams that has made America the world leader in dozens of fields. It is time for a new and a broader vision for American higher education, which is entrepreneurial, innovative and global.

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