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TIAA-CREF Conference Examines Higher Ed Access

TIAA-CREF Conference Examines Higher Ed Access
Administrators search for funding alternatives as government aid dwindles.
By Jamal Watson

Dozens of leaders from some of the nation’s most prestigious public and private colleges and universities recently gathered in Manhattan to discuss ways to make higher education more accessible to the masses.

The annual conference, titled “Transformational Change in Higher Education: Positioning Your Institution for Future Success,” was sponsored by TIAA-CREF, the national financial services organization that provides retirement services in the academic, research, media and cultural fields. The two-day symposium, held at TIAA-CREF’s headquarters, focused on the rising costs of higher education.

College administrators who attended the gathering said that with the recent cutbacks in federal aid, they are looking for ways to fund their institutions without raising tuition. The challenges to keeping their colleges affordable are manifold, they said. They point to an unprecedented number of American students choosing to attend four-year colleges overseas. As a result, the overall enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities is seemingly on the decline.

“We are losing our best students to international countries,” said Dr. Ronald Ehrenberg, director of the Higher Education Research Institute at Cornell University. “We really need to step up and deal
with the finances of our institutions.”

Administrators also lamented the decline in graduate schoolapplications. They expressed concern about whether the academy will be able to attract a new generation to teach and lead the more than 4,000 colleges and universities across the country. Among minority students, the disparity appears even greater.

Currently, 49 percent of the nation’s higher education students are enrolled at community colleges. About 35 percent attend public, four-year schools, and about 16 percent attend private institutions. The   college administrators at the TIAA-CREF conference pointed out that the public     institutions, which primarily rely on funding from their state legislatures, are facing the largest financial deficits.

For example, at the University of California, Berkley, a top-tier public university, maintenance on many of its buildings has been deferred because of a lack of funds. Public institutions are also losing the battle for “superstar” professors to their private counterparts. High-caliber professors would likely attract more students,
administrators say.

“[Salaries for] professors at public institutions lag behind faculty at private colleges at an average of $30,000,” said Dr. James C. Garland, president emeritus of Miami University of Ohio. His institution, one of Ohio’s largest public schools, with an enrollment of about 18,000 students, has not seen a decline in minority or first-generation college students despite the fact that it receives a bulk of its funding from the state.

Garland said MU has followed the example of some private higher education institutions, establishing itself as a tax exempt corporation and a nonprofit institution. He said the classification would provide public colleges with more autonomy from their state legislatures when it comes to financing educational initiatives.

Dr. Catharine Bond Hill, the newly appointed president of Vassar College, said there is a widening socioeconomic gap at the nation’s top-tier and most expensive private institutions, despite the availability of need-based financial aid.

She said many high school guidance counselors discourage low-income students from even applying to top-flight universities, citing the enormous tuition costs. Fearful of accumulating massive debt, many of low-income students instead opt to attend  state schools.

According to Madeleine d’Ambrosio, executive director of the TIAA-CREF Institute, the symposium came about as a result of numerous interactions with higher education leaders across the country about the challenges facing the academy.

“By bringing insight to central issues in this way, our goal is to help college and university leaders explore new ideas and implement strategies leading to future success,” she said.

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