Slowly but surely, the financial picture for higher education is beginning to look brighter—at least in contrast to the depths of the economic downturn from which we’re now finally emerging. After years of declining or flat institutional budgets, there have been some hopeful increases in state funding and private giving, combined with better returns for investment portfolios.
But we’ve all gone through too many cyclical recessions to believe that traditional streams of funding will return to normal levels any time soon, if ever. Using the ingenuity and innovation that our colleges and universities are known for, institutional leaders have branched out into new revenue strategies and creative ways to combine and maximize existing resources.
This issue of The Presidency highlights some of these best practices and creative solutions—the bold moves and the tactical ones, both large-scale and small—that leaders across the higher education spectrum can look to for new ideas applicable to their own campuses, including:
- Miami Dade College has tapped the personal stories of its many successful alumni—as well as the relationships it nurtures with corporate funders—to help raise more than $11 million last year, despite the still-limping economy.
- Two State University of New York campuses—Canton and Potsdam—have pooled resources to afford a staffer who serves student veterans at both institutions, part of a system-wide shared-services initiative aimed at funneling $100 million in savings per year into student-success initiatives.
- San Francisco State University is working with its students to make sure that its foundation stays focused not just on quarterly earnings, but on returns that are both financially and environmentally sustainable over the long term.
- Northeastern University (MA) is broadening its student and revenue base far outside the Northeast, opening new graduate campuses as far away as Seattle and Charlotte, North Carolina.
We’re not out of the woods yet, however: Recent warnings from bond-rating agencies and campuses’ own chief financial officers about the viability of traditional higher education economic models caution us all against the temptation to simply retread old habits for these new times.
Even as we welcome funding and philanthropic increases, the downturn is still fresh in our minds, and many college and university leaders are presciently applying the hard lessons of the past few years, proactively preparing for the next downturn that waits for us ineluctably down the road.
It’s arguable whether the Great Recession has made higher education stronger, but it’s indisputable that it has inspired us all to become wiser.
Molly Corbett Broad
American Council on Education