I hope in this coming year to share some ideas and insights regarding the manner in which societal change demands intelligent responses from our universities. I believe it is imperative for our nation’s citizens to understand the role that our leading universities play — as founts of new ideas, engines of innovation and agents of widespread prosperity and social mobility — and how to ensure that they can play such roles most effectively in the coming decade.
The concept of the university is only a millennium old, hardly a sizable portion of history. But once universities were created, they have served as humanities most enduring institutions, as Clark Kerr and others have observed.
Yet societal and technological forces have rearranged our assumptions about much in life: classrooms, libraries, campuses, lifelong learning, even the very nature of literacy itself. Many ask, in 2008, what is an education? And when and where does it happen? Will campuses become obsolete due to online learning and other developments?
Higher education enrollment swelled from three million students to 17 million over the past half-century. Even factoring in the United States’ population increase from 170 million to 300 million over that time, the rise is still extraordinary. And whereas 750,000 students annually received master’s degrees fifty years ago, that number has increased more than sevenfold. The grand and historic traditions of higher education have undergone shocking change in the span of a heartbeat.