Public Purpose Magazine, Summer 2013
2013 Summer PP Cover


Leading in Difficult TimesBy George E. Ross
In the best of times, balancing interests across a university can be challenging. In difficult times, leaders must redouble their efforts to involve and communicate with stakeholders, while making decisions that advance student success and the university as a whole.

As Central Michigan University (CMU) has adjusted to a new normal in state support and declining high school classes, we, like many others, deal with the constant pressure of budget gaps, competing priorities and sometimes conflicting short- and long-term objectives.

Friction is inevitable. We’ve made missteps, and we’ll make more. We’ve learned, and we’ll continue to do so.

What’s significant is that we talk often as a leadership team—and as a campus community—about communication. In fact, it’s a critical pillar in the shared pursuit of CMU’s vision and mission.

Refining the VSAA quest for authentic ways to measure learning outcomes characterizes the continuing development of the Voluntary System of AccountabilityBy Stephen G. Pelletier
As a bold, proactive means to address public calls for more transparency from higher education, as a tool for institutions to learn more about the value they add, and as an example of the good that associations can do, the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA) is a remarkable achievement. The VSA maps a viable path through the thorny challenge of measuring and reporting student learning outcomes.

Not a static process—or one entirely free from controversy—the VSA’s development most recently has been defined by a set of refinements designed to make it even more relevant and useful. But to understand those changes and how the VSA got to where it is today, we have to go back to the beginning—which, in this case, is about 10 years ago. 

AASCU Task ForceCalls for a New Compact Between States and Public Higher EducationBy William A. Sederburg and Daniel J. Hurley
The leaders of America’s public colleges and universities face a critical challenge in shaping the future of their institutions and their states: building a more constructive relationship between their institutions and state political leaders. A new bond between states and institutions must precede a rejuvenated and sustained increase in state investment in higher education necessary to support the public colleges and universities that are so vital to a strong economy and vibrant democracy.

In order better equip higher education leaders’ ability to address this challenge, in 2012 AASCU President Muriel A. Howard appointed a Task Force on Making Public Higher Education a State Priority to identify strategies for strengthening the relationship between state government and public higher education. Comprised of leaders with extensive higher education experience at the campus and state level, as well as in elected office, the task force has sought to: explore the political context within which higher education operates; recommend strategies for establishing a new partnership between states and their public colleges and universities; and identify strategies for advancing higher education as a state investment priority.

The task force examined the current context through a decidedly political lens, recognizing that the U.S. faces a paradox in which state policymakers’ strong rhetorical support for public higher education is misaligned with the support it receives as a state investment priority. Failure to reverse this trend will lead to a continued state-to-student cost shift that will increasingly jeopardize college affordability, as well as the aspirations of millions of people to join the American middle-class and, ultimately, our nation’s economic competitiveness. 

Creating Opportunities Through ProductivityBy Rita Cheng
From our local communities, to our state capitols, to our nation’s Capitol, the higher education sector remains under tremendous pressure. Our institutions serve many constituencies—including students and their families, taxpayers and elected
officials—struggling with fiscal constraints and uncertainties of their own. As a result of these economic realities, calls for
greater accountability and efficiency on our campuses are growing ever louder.

As responsible stewards of public funding and generous private donations, higher education leaders are heeding those calls—perhaps more than many outside higher education realize. We are asked to improve student achievement and to do so with fewer financial resources.

As chancellor of Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIU), I know first-hand and from conversations with colleagues throughout the country that the higher education community is focusing on productivity along with needed improvements to student success and degree completion rates. One size does not fit all, but at SIU, we have implemented a range of initiatives that are already showing signs of streamlining our operations.