Sow money into higher education, and the economy reaps the returns

April 30, 2014

Sow investment

If you were told that every tuition dollar to a University of California school would impact the economy five-fold in the future, would you think differently about your investment?

That is one of the hopes of UC President Janet Napolitano and her fellow college heads, who addressed common misconceptions about university costs during the Global Conference panel “The Future of Higher Education.”

“We need to instill a belief in higher education, and that it’s not a cost; it’s an investment,” Napolitano said.” Despite the fact that 10 percent of the nation’s research dollars are expended at the University of California, “higher education needs more public advocates at the state and federal levels.” 

Contrary to public belief, while the UC system is the No. 1 beneficiary of federal research grants and National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants, the money “stays flat or goes down,” Napolitano noted. Less than 3 percent of the state’s budget is dedicated to the UC system, added Barry Munitz, chancellor emeritus of California State University and moderator of the panel.

Greater investment can help universities build the capacity to create solutions to the nation’s most pressing challenges. On the East Coast, Steven Knapp, president of George Washington University, described a recent partnership with the Milken Institute, Sumner Redstone and the Milken Family Foundation to establish the new Milken Institute School of Public Health.

The organizations’ combined commitment of $80 million – the largest donation the university has ever received – will be focused on the prevention of disease and promotion of wellness. Knapp said some of the new resources will be used to convene experts from around the world to help solve this “hugely challenging issue.”

At a time when higher education is going through enormous shifts with the influence of online education, changes in funding and the desegregation of services, there is a great opportunity to “position ourselves as the disruptors, not the disrupted,” saidJoseph Aoun, president of Northeastern University. 

At their institutions, Aoun, Napolitano and Knapp have adopted hybrid educational models (online and in-person) to provide more access to students of all backgrounds and demographics. 

Executive Chairman Robert Silberman leads Strayer Education, Inc., which caters to working adults. Organizations like his show that increased access is powerful. “The need for education, and the incredible power of a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree has led more working adults to decide that going back to school was an important thing to do,” he said.