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Higher Ed Economics: How to Have an Informed National Conversation?
August 11, 2010 - 9:30pm

The discussion around the economics of higher education yesterday was really amazing.

I now have a list of articles and places to research to begin to go up the learning curve of post-secondary finance. Thank you.

What I'm wondering now is how we can have an informed, nationwide discussion around the economics of higher education?

Ideally, this discussion would be online and asynchronous. I'm not saying that we don't discuss costs, access, and productivity at our existing face-to-face conferences. However, in my experience these discussion tend to be amongst peers in similar jobs (say CIO to CIO), as opposed to colleagues in different leadership positions at our institutions.

An online discussion could also be more inclusive, bringing in campus leaders - but also people working on the front-lines. The broader the range of professions the better. A discussion such as this could include faculty and administrators. People who teach and people who manage and run the technology. People in charge of getting the money (enrollment, admissions, marketing, development, etc.) and people in charge of spending the money (faculty, administrators etc.). Maybe even some student input.

My fantasy for such a discussion is that it would be run like a great online course. We would have a core set of readings, and structured discussions based on those readings. The course (discussion) would be led by recognized experts in the field of higher ed economics. We would come away from the experience with a set of concrete recommendations and ideas we could bring back to our communities.

The problem is that I have no idea how to make something like this actually happen. Even if we could figure out a platform that allowed the sharing of materials and discussions, we would need the "expert(s)" to actually build the environment. And even if we had an expert and a platform, would we really be able to engage higher education decision makers in this discussion?

Are these discussions on the economics of higher ed already taking place? Has the Obama administration brought together college presidents, CIOs, CFOs, provosts, deans, faculty and students to talk about productivity, costs, and access in higher education? Has the Department of Education published a set of best-practices and case studies of institutions that have lowered costs (lowered tuition), while increasing enrollment and quality? Are their grants available aimed specifically at programs that increase enrollments while lowering costs?

How do we start, maintain, and participate in a national conversation on the economics of higher ed?


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