Imagine, if you will, a train that is getting ready to leave the station. There is a large group of 500 people who all want to get on the train. The train can usually fit about 100 people. If people are willing to stand, they can fit 200 people on the train. But that still leaves another 300 people waiting at the station. How will the train serve them? Should the engineers and porters keep working through the night? Should they ask the people to wait many hours or days until more trains can be re-routed to the station? Or should the train operators just turn those 300 people away?

 

It’s a simplistic comparison at best, but it speaks to a challenge facing higher education in our global community. Universities are being called upon to educate more students to bolster the world economy, and yet budget cuts have forced them to work with fewer resources than before.

 

At the California State University, we have been driven to tackle this challenge with a multi-faceted approach. We are trying to focus on managing our limited resources with the most efficiency, and on helping our communities understand the critical importance of higher education.

 

To meet our students’ needs, one of the most obvious changes involves offering more classes on evenings and weekends. This can serve the dual purpose of helping us reach more students who have full- or part-time work responsibilities, and helping us make better use of our facilities. Additionally, we have begun to offer more courses with an online component that would allow students to “attend” class remotely, from their home or place of work. We also have been exploring how to improve efficiencies and streamline requirements so that students’ time is spent more productively.

 

We are also trying to help the public understand the importance of what we do by quantifying our institutions’ productivity and importance to the economy.

 

We recently showcased a study that credits the CSU and its graduates with producing $70 billion in economic activity and supporting more than 485,000 jobs – or one in every 32 jobs in California today. This kind of information helps our audiences understand that higher education reaps benefits not only for the individual but also for society.

 

Last but not least, we are continuing to seek out partnerships outside of higher education. The model of a university operating high up in an “ivory tower” is increasingly archaic. We need business and community partners who understand our challenges. And likewise, we want to understand what employers need from our graduates so that we can prepare our students to be successful in the workforce.

 

In these difficult times, we are confident in knowing that an investment in higher education will reap long-term dividends for any economy, but we need to make sure that the rest of society understands that and believes in us. That’s why we must continue to serve students with quality and accountability – and demonstrate that we have the flexibility and resiliency to deal with whatever challenges we come across.

 

By Dr. Charles B. Reed
Chancellor, The California State University