Institute's 2010 Higher Education Leadership Conference Tackles Realities Facing Colleges and Universities

The following is a summary of the TIAA-CREF Institute’s 2010 Higher Education Leadership Conference (HELC), held November 4th and 5th in New York. This year’s theme was Charting the Way: New Realities for Higher Education. HELC provides senior institutional leaders the opportunity to explore emerging issues and challenges impacting the business of higher education.

The mission of the TIAA-CREF Institute is to foster objective research, build knowledge, support thought leadership, and enhance understanding of strategic issues related to higher education and lifelong financial security. For additional information, please visit, or follow the conference’s Twitter feed at

Welcome from Stephanie Bell-Rose, TIAA-CREF Managing Director and head of the TIAA-CREF Institute  

Stephanie: This conference was created to focus on issues that are top-of-mind for campus leaders and to study questions that are central to the ongoing vitality of our nation’s colleges and universities. Both this conference and the TIAA-CREF Institute are products of TIAA-CREF’s unique historical commitment to higher education. 

Since it was created, the TIAA-CREF Institute has helped to inform decisions faced by higher education leaders and policy makers. As we get ready to begin a new decade, the Institute is poised to build on its legacy of support to the academic community.

Currently too many underestimate the importance of the value of higher education, and as leaders it’s our job to highlight what education means to individuals and our community.

According to recent Institute research, college graduates share their intellectual capital with the community, and also enjoy benefits such as a more productive use of time, greater happiness and a longer life span than non-graduates.

Opening Keynote Address, William G. Bowen, President Emeritus, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; President Emeritus, Princeton University

Bowen spoke about his new book, Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities, which examines the declining graduation rates at public institutions. 

Bowen: Attrition occurs at all stages of the educational process, not just in the first year. We think there is much to be said for paying attention to four-year public universities, a beleaguered class of schools based on recent budget cuts from states. 

High school grades are a better predictor of higher education success than SAT/ACT scores. A student with a good GPA from a low-quality high school is likely to perform better in college than a student with a lower GPA from a high-quality high school. Because what do high school grades measure? Coping skills. Low-income students are much more price-sensitive than high-income students, which has implications for financial help such as merit aid and need-based aid. Higher education leaders have to get a larger number of students from poor families and African American and Hispanic students to complete college if the U.S. is to be competitive.

Given budgetary constraints, the time has come to exploit the power of teaching in technology. We need a rigorous analysis of learning effectiveness and potential cost savings in various campus setting at large public universities. There is tremendous pressure for schools to do more with less. As the head of one public university said to me, either we figure this out, or someone above us puts in place a solution.

Session I: Charting the Way: Focus on the Future
This session explored current and future trends in the nation’s economy and its need and support for higher education.

Mary Spilde, President, Lane Community College in Oregon: We’re still trying to fit the Internet into our educational paradigm. Kids in their 20s now are tapping into their own educational sources through the Internet. Another trend in higher education is our fiscal sustainability. We’ve been doing the same thing in higher education for 400 years. We’re spending the most money in this country on those most likely to succeed and the least on those least likely to succeed. There will never be enough public funding, so we need to be more entrepreneurial. At our school we are trying to capitalize on our land assets, and increase the number of international students. Students from overseas are not only wonderful for our campus, they also help bring in revenue for our campus to help us better serve the community.

Scott Cowen, President, Tulane University: We have to come to the realization that unemployment is at 10% and will likely stay that way for years. The great recession will cause behavioral changes. At Tulane we have four sources of funding: tuition, research, patient care from our hospital, and philanthropy. It’s difficult to raise tuition, and research doesn’t generate revenue. The days of large gifts from the rich may be ending. We are doing strategic pruning on the academic portfolio. 

After Hurricane Katrina, Tulane became much more focused. We were investing lots of money in remedial education, and realized many of the problems stemmed from Pre-K through grade 12 education. Before Katrina, New Orleans had a love/hate relationship with Tulane. They saw us as aloof. The relationship has since improved. They are helping New Orleans public education, which has attracted the attention of donors to Tulane.

Mathew Goldstein, Chancellor, the City University of New York: The budgets of our state governments are probably the worst in our lifetime. Public education is in serious trouble in the U.S. I run a very large public system with a half million students. Unless we at CUNY are able to reimagine how public higher education is funded, we are going to go down a slippery slope. New York State next year is projected to have a $9 billion budget deficit. 

Higher education needs a rational tuition policy. When state support and other revenue sources decline, that’s when we have tuition spikes. Philanthropy is a critical part of this different approach, so we are investing in our efforts. New tax policies may prompt the very wealthy to make large donations.

Session II: Finding New Opportunities: Voices of Experience
This session examined how some institutions have treated recent economic and environmental challenges as an opportunity to try new ventures, experiment with other modes of instruction, reshape the curriculum to preserve quality, and/or to engage the campus in rethinking the mission, goals and strategies of the institution.

Joni W. Finney, VP, The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education: Volatility in state funding is a problem for higher education. Every time we go into a recession we raise tuition. The student’s share of higher education funding has risen since 1990. We have shifted the cost of going to college onto students and families. With rising college costs we are really pricing families out of the market. Many institutional presidents tell me they just can’t raise tuition any more. We need some rational basis for setting tuition – it can’t just be the gap between what you asked the state for and what you get.

Michael Bassis, President, Westminster College in Utah: Over the last decade our tuition has gone up 88%, far faster than inflation and family incomes. No matter how much a student may want to go to Westminster, if you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. We have found ways to reduce costs, including administrative expenses.

Earl Lewis, Provost and EVP for Academic Affairs, Emory University: We have tried to take costs out by changing basic business practices. We also launched Emory Advantage to help students from lower-income families and replace student loans with grants for some students. 

We started in 2008 with budget cuts, but we also started communicating to the internal community. We had to explain to people that this was not just a cyclical downturn, this was a realignment. In spring of 2009 we communicated to the entire campus. We gave budget projections for the next few years and asked departments how they would cut their budgets and/or increase revenue.

We need to grow with other types of modalities, such as online. We put things up on iTunes to see who uses them. We learned that there’s a population of folks who want what we produce but are not our traditional students.

Teresa Sullivan, President, the University of Virginia: I am a relatively new college president. Most university presidents can feel themselves trapped in that iron triangle of quality, cost and access. 

Our students came up with flash seminars – spending two hours with a faculty member for the first students that sign up. I think the flash seminars are a great sign of where faculty and students interests lie. Any university has to continue to invest. We’re about new knowledge and new learning. A big problem at many of our institutions is that the operational and academic sides don’t really talk too much. At Virginia I’m going to try to get these two sides to talk to each other.

Session III: Meeting New Goals for Higher Education
President Obama has announced that he is committed to ensuring that America will have the highest proportion of students graduating from college in the world by 2020. His bold goal has been supported by the Lumina Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, both of which are awarding grants to this end.

Jack Stripling, higher education reporter, Inside Higher Ed: The U.S. has remained stagnant while other schools have made progress in higher education. President Obama’s goals are not without controversy.

Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO, Lumina Foundation: What I like about the Obama goal is the issue of attainment. We have to both increase participation in higher education as well as completion. We have significant problems in access to higher education for the fastest growing segments of our population. Obama’s goal is that America will have the highest proportion of students graduating college by 2020. But we have no system in the U.S. in defining what a degree is. We think we need to have a more coherent conversation about this issue. We need to be more inclusive by what we mean by higher education. Thirty-seven million Americans have gone to college but have no degree. There’s lots of opportunities to be able to target them. What are the problems in the participation for higher education? It’s not a single factor – it’s academic, financial, social. We need to think about them in a more holistic way, which we haven’t in the past. There is also a need to align K-12 and higher education. The pathway to these goals requires a more expansive view of higher education. The for-profit sector is bringing in a lot of innovation.

Mark Milliron, Deputy Director, Postsecondary Improvement, Gates Foundation: Post-secondary education helps break the cycle of poverty. We care a lot about completion, but realize it’s got to be a combination of access, quality and completion. We’re about helping low-income individuals get pathways to help. Many students work full time, so how do we serve them? We need to explore the strategic use of technology. We suggest knitting together K-12 institutions and community and four-year colleges in a region.

We may have to consider evolution and revolution to achieve these goals. We’ve done this before with the creation of community colleges and land grant colleges in the U.S.

Winner of the 2010 TIAA-CREF Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence 

The TIAA-CREF Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence honors Father Theodore Hesburgh, the long-time president and current president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame. Father Hesburgh also served for 30 years on the TIAA-CREF Board of Overseers, helping to guide our company for the benefit of everyone it serves. 

This year we awarded the Hesburgh award to William E. (Brit) Kirwan, Chancellor of the University System of Maryland. Brit Kirwan has served as chancellor of the University System of Maryland, which comprises 11 universities, since 2002 and previously served as president of the University of Maryland, College Park and The Ohio State University. His ongoing efforts have improved higher education and increased the general public’s appreciation for the role colleges and universities play in advancing society.

Keynote Address: Roger W. Ferguson, President and CEO, TIAA-CREF 

Roger: The TIAA-CREF Institute has been around for 12 years, conducting objective and high-quality research, with the ultimate goal of helping you make informed decisions. Our goal now is to broaden and deepen the Institute’s agenda, to make it better able to advance lifelong financial security and the business of higher education. 

The Institute recently conducted a Higher Education Retirement Confidence Survey to study how the higher education workforce is preparing financially for retirement. The Institute sponsored a second survey with the Employee Benefits Research Institute to explore similar issues among the general workforce.

We learned that the higher education community is markedly more confident than the U.S. workforce at large about the prospect of a financially secure retirement. For example, 95% of workers in higher education have saved for retirement and 89% are currently saving in a retirement plan sponsored by their employer.

We also found that higher education workers are more likely than workers at large to plan for what they’ll need in retirement. We also found that college and university workers are more likely to seek objective financial advice: they are two-thirds more likely than other workers to have sought financial advice in the past year and are likely to have followed it – 20% followed all the advice they received and 52 percent followed most of it.

You can read more about the survey here.

Session IV: Alternative Approaches: What Can We Learn?

In efforts to improve the quality of instruction and reduce costs, some colleges and universities have been exploring new strategies. This session explored a few of the strategies currently being used by colleges and universities in facing today’s challenges.

Peter Smith, Senior Vice President of Academic Strategies and Development, Kaplan Higher Education: Today the academy in its diverse form in America does not control the pace of change.

I’ve never seen stats on what is working in the teaching environment and what is not working. To stay competitive with the rest of the world, we need to increase the number of people with specialized skills. We’re about to see an explosion of flexibility in terms of learning outcomes.

Carol Twigg: President and CEO, Center for Academic Transformation: Institutions are constricted by their existing practices. For-profit institutions are much more conscientious in using data, dealing with the issues we say need to be dealt with in higher education. A lot of the excess student demand will have to be met with new solutions, but there are things existing institutions can do. It is possible to increase student learning outcomes while decreasing costs. Redesigns reduce instruction costs on average 35%. We’ve worked with community colleges, research schools, any kind of institution on redesigns. To me the question is, it can be done, why aren’t more people doing it? In many of these redesigns class size is doubled. Students can get individual help when they need it. We worked with the University System of Maryland on these redesigns. These system-wide approaches can be more effective than working with just one school. In the future the nontraditional sector of higher education will grow. We’ve helped schools redesign their science classes to emphasize problem solving instead of lecture.

Kent Chabotar, President, Guilford College: For-profit schools offer shorter “block courses” and demand-driven curriculum. How can we cut costs and transform things? In the future there will be few silos between public and private schools, between non-profit, two- and four-year schools. My school has doubled in size in the past five years, thanks to adult students. We had to offer more weekend and night classes to accommodate them. But we didn’t separate the adults and traditional students, as they could complement each other.

Session V: Leadership Challenges and Leadership Courage
The recent years have been stressful for leaders in higher education. All forecasts indicate that in the immediate future higher education will realize neither increased revenue nor decreased demand for its services. How do higher education leaders prepare themselves to face the challenges of the future and make courageous decisions in the face of opposition that is often extreme and personally discouraging?

Marvalene Hughes, President of Dillard University in New Orleans: I would like to thank many of you for taking in our students after Hurricane Katrina. After the storm I said to staff and students: You will return and will return to New Orleans. But there was no place to return to. We managed to negotiate with the Hilton hotel downtown. When we came back we came back as a student body and faculty living in the Hilton Hotel. Can you imagine that? All around us businesses were closed, restaurants were closed, but I had about 2,000 people who were captive in the Hilton and we brought that neighborhood back.

In coming back I learned how much I can do. Every building on campus was under ten feet of water. Inside of you is that same power. For me it became my purpose. It became clear to me that Dillard University could be stronger than it ever was. We came through with all new buildings. All of the labs are new and up to date, and the students are happy. Our student population is almost back to pre-Katrina levels, and our faculty has returned.

Brown University and Princeton University opened offices on their campuses with staff available to me for anything I needed and anything I wanted. Brown helped when our sacred oak trees were dying. Brown and Oberlin and Princeton came and rescued our library.

Daniel Kaufman, President Georgia Gwinnett College: When we opened in 2006 we had 118 educational pioneers, our students. We had no alumni. I spoke to local business leaders and said you are our alumni. We now have 5,500 students.

Our retention rate for Hispanic and African-American students is higher than White students. Our faculty must give their students their cell phone numbers and be available.
Students who are not ready for college English or college math have to take remedial classes before they go to the college level. We’re building a culture based on teaching and student success. The key to success of America will be access to higher education by all the parts of our society.

William Kirwan, Chancellor, University System of Maryland: The amount of time a university leader spends away from the institution is increasing. You need to feel connected to the campus, but there is this need to be in the community. It is so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day activities, then realize you haven’t moved the institution forward. It’s so important to constantly keep checking on the objectives and goals. Time management is a major challenge.

There is more angst in general in society, and our people on campus feel that angst. We have to think about how to deal with it. It puts an increased focus on campus leaders to communicate and be transparent. You need to have those on campus in agreement with any change.

We need to ensure that when students come out of high school they are ready for the four-year education experience. There are silos in education. We need to ensure the entire education world is working together. We need to realize we will be in a period of time of great fiscal challenges, and yet still improve access to education. We need to improve access to higher education otherwise we are at risk in America of building a permanent underclass

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