Yet for all the emphasis on measurable outcomes in math and science, there is a concern that the demands of the future workforce will be even more complex. "We need to layer on a set of skills that will allow students to deal with the new work environment," said Michigan's Hanlon, "which is things like the confidence and experience to innovate, to create, the ability to reinvent themselves, the ability to work in teams, particularly with diverse sets of people and increasingly in an international situation." You can't measure that.
[Learn about programs that are combatting students' disinterest in the sciences.]
• Needed innovations: Looking ahead, there seems to be a slow but insistent move toward rearranging the structure of the university. "There has to be a real transformation in our system where we introduce a new dynamic of continuous productivity improvement in higher education, something that hasn't occurred before," said the Education Department's Ochoa. There are various avenues favored by administrators, including alliances with two-year colleges, joint ventures with other schools, and building out often lucrative adult and continuing education programs.
Not an issue is the online for-profit model, which officials don't consider a threat, nor online education in general: few expect to be granting online bachelor's degrees. Technology and its ability to make teachers and students more productive is another matter, though more in terms of talk than action.
"We haven't really had a great discussion in the academy yet about how it's changing what we teach," said Rollins College's Duncan. "And because the academy changes at glacial speeds it will take a little while for us to catch up."
A large area of interest is redefining schools as a community resource and the partnerships that emerge from that, whether related to workforce, K-12 education, adult education, community college feeder programs, or industry research.
As Houston's Khator put it, "Trying to run on your own does not work and it will not work. So we've created many partnerships. That is the future for us." One size will not fit all, but the principle of refining a school's mission looks to be crucial. "Schools are having to find their centers of excellence," said Duncan. "What they're known for."
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