February 25, 2013
Today I write to comment on the increasing national news coverage that has focused on challenges facing higher education in the United States. I do this to provide a context for Tulane's current academic, administrative and financial planning processes.
Most of the recent higher education news (and criticism) centers on issues related to affordability, accessibility, accountability and the value/purpose of a college degree, as well as the financial sustainability of higher education, especially in light of possible federal budget cuts in research and student financial aid. These issues are not new but are attracting greater scrutiny from the press and state and federal governments. Proposed ideas to address these issues abound, but there are no easy solutions because of the institutional diversity represented in the higher education sector and the complexity of the issues involved. Nonetheless, these issues will shape and impact colleges and universities well into the future.
Tulane is undertaking three initiatives to address these and related issues. Currently we are in the midst of a comprehensive two-year planning process that will chart Tulane's future for the next decade. This process began in fiscal year (FY) 2012 when we conducted an analysis of our institutional strengths and weaknesses and identified the opportunities and challenges facing Tulane. Not surprisingly, Tulane's strengths and opportunities are tied to its strong academic position. Its weaknesses and challenges are primarily related to its financial position relative to peer institutions (e.g. the size of Tulane's endowment). Despite these differences, Tulane is still highly competitive academically and financially sound because of its focus on controlling costs and making wise, targeted investments. Post- Katrina, the Tulane community did an amazing job in making the university better and stronger than anyone anticipated. However, doing more with less is no longer enough to keep us strong in the "new" world of higher education. Future challenges will continue to put an emphasis on making sure revenues and expenses are balanced and resources are closely aligned with strategic priorities. It will also require all higher education institutions to think differently and to adapt new strategies appropriate to the changes occurring more generally in society and most specifically in higher education.
Concurrent with the long-term planning process, we are also preparing financial projections for FY '14 and beyond. These early projections reveal two different outcomes. Currently, our financial situation is solid. However, unless we continue to remain vigilant about cost control, while at the same time expanding our revenues, we could quickly find ourselves in a situation where costs outpace revenues. Such an event would be untenable if it were to occur. To avoid getting to this point, we are working with the various academic and administrative units, as part of the planning process, to assist them to strategically focus their units while also being fiscally sound.
I plan to communicate more regularly on these matters through a series of live chats, the first of which will be take place at noon on Monday, March 4. During these sessions, I will answer questions about our academic and financial planning processes, national issues affecting Tulane and other relevant topics. I also hope to get your ideas about how Tulane might address these issues in a way that will put the university in a more positive position among our peers. A transcript of each live chat will be posted on the Tulane website so our entire university community can be engaged in the discussion.
As we go through our planning process, there are also actions you can take to assist us. Participate in the live chats (or at least read the transcripts), educate yourself on the national issues facing higher education, engage in the planning process at the school or department level, keep reading my special messages on this topic and send any ideas or thoughts you have to Tulaneforward@tulane.edu.
I believe the future of higher education in the next decade will be significantly different than in the past. It will be more challenging, especially financially, and open to increased public scrutiny, while still offering opportunities for growth and further distinction. Those institutions that thrive will demonstrate adaptability, flexibility, innovation and resilience. The Tulane community has demonstrated these traits in the past, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and I have no doubt these traits will also define its future.
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