Even if colleges do believe in reaching more students, many are struggling to serve the amount of students necessary to meet such a goal as funds from the state and from endowments are lower than ever, resulting in the elimination of many programs. Last year, states nationwide cut about $1.2 billion from higher education budgets, and for fiscal year 2012, there is an expected cut of $5 billion nationwide, according to the Center on Budget Policies and Priorities.
Despite these cuts, and the long-term challenges for colleges nationally, many university administrators are reluctant to change much about the traditional higher education model.
"There's so many vested interests among faculty, alumni and legislatures, that it's become easier to spend a few tens of thousands to keep programs going than to get grief down the road," said Harry Lewis, former dean of Harvard College.
At the same time, Lewis calls what BYU-Idaho is doing "courageous" and even "inspired."
"It's certainly an example of an institution that decided to think differently and to not follow slavishly the standard and the paradigm of excellence and success that has been defined by what we have historically thought of as great universities," Lewis said.
Henry J. Eyring admits that not every college can implement BYU-Idaho initiatives the exact same way, but says that everyone can and needs to innovate.
Most colleges need to realize that they cannot be everything to everyone, that states don't need every public university to be focused on research and offer every degree available.
"Choose student subjects you can be the best at doing and make sure your incentives align with what you care about," he suggests.
He also recommends that every institution look into operating year-round.
"What would healthcare be like if it only operated seven months out of the year or any other business for that matter?" Eyring says, adding that institutions can offer a higher salary to teachers who work year-round or offer a lower tuition price in the summer months.
He said some have told him that BYU-Idaho only works as well as it does because it is owned by the LDS church.
"You can get people to do this because they are committed to the church," is something he said he often hears. "But no one get into higher education without a high level of commitment."
He said colleges need to look at what they incentivize — is it innovation and teaching or is it just research and personal prestige?
Traditionally the only way to improve quality was by increasing cost, but this can't be the attitude any longer, Clark said. Innovation and technology are the keys.
"You really have to rethink almost everything," he said.
The problem for many institutions is they tie the cuts and innovations to the economy, but there must be a higher mission and reason to push change and innovation besides economic needs. Schools need to have a mission that professors and faculty members can get behind.
"The only way is to have a strategy," Clark said. "Define who you are and want to be and who you are not. Too many colleges and universities have been driven by external measures of performance and external measures of quality. But it's important that institutions figure out what they are good at and be focused."
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