April 19, 2013
This week I attended the spring presidential meeting of the Association of American Universities (AAU), a group of 62 universities in the United States and Canada known and respected for their excellence in research and education. Tulane has been a part of the association since 1958 and is still one of just a handful of members from the South. I also happen to be chair of the AAU this year.
This was one of the most somber meetings I recall attending in my years as Tulane's president. The main topic of discussion was the state of higher education - currently and for the foreseeable future - and the unique challenges facing the missions and operations of major research universities.
In general, future growth in the higher education sector is likely to be stagnant as universities face declining state and federal funding coupled with pressure to mitigate tuition increases and lower the cost structure of colleges and universities. Even highly selective universities like Tulane will not be immune to these trends.
In essence, we are about to enter a "new normal" for higher education. This era will be characterized by constrained budgets, increased government scrutiny and regulation, and pressure from the public for more accountability and proof of the value of a college degree. Those institutions that thrive will demonstrate adaptability, innovation (transformative and incremental), fiscal conservancy and focus.
Fortunately, Tulane has been engaged in a long-term planning process for the last year and a half that will position it to remain one of the country's leading institutions - an academically distinctive, high quality and financially strong institution true to its educational, research and civic engagement missions.
The new normal will be different and difficult for all universities and colleges, but Tulane's distinctiveness and academic excellence will remain the same. Tulane has been tested in the past and demonstrated its resilience, determination and ability to change as circumstances warrant. These attributes will serve us well as we confront the new normal and forge a future of our making rather than one shaped by others.
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