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Future of State Universities Conference Focus: Technology Transformation

by Mr. T in DC via Flickr under Creative Commons

The Future of State Universities conference in Dallas earlier this month was notable for some of the speakers it drew to talk about several issues, including the technology that state universities should consider. Guest speakers and high-profile attendees included Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, former U.S. Governors Jeb Bush of Florida and Jim Hunt of North Carolina, U.S. Dept of Ed. Secretary Arne Duncan via video, U.S. Undersecretary of Education Martha J. Kanter and Harvard Business School professor/author/innovation guru Clayton Christensen. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Australian Prime Minister John Howard also attended. The conference largely pushed a digital agenda toward the sometimes insular state university leaders who attended. The conference took a survey of the attendees and here are the results:

87% of the respondents to the pre-conference survey believe that public universities will undergo major structural changes in the future.


Two thirds of students graduating with 4-year degrees last year, owed on average $23,186 in student loans. CNN Money

Student loan debt has eclipsed credit card debt at $1.0 trillion and counting.


Only 11% of respondents to the pre-conference survey believe that student readiness for college is stable or increasing.


100% of presidents and 75% of provosts and deans that responded to the pre-conference survey believe that faculty interactions with students will change significantly in the coming years.


50% of respondents to the pre-conference survey believe that foreign universities will increasingly become competitors with U.S. universities for U.S. students.

95% believe that foreign students will be a major source of students in the future.


  • 90% of respondents to the pre-conference survey believe that state funding for higher education will continue to decline.
  • 85% believe that federal funding for higher education will decrease in the future.
  • 75% believe that public support for higher education is destined to decline as costs increase.
  • 13% believe that public universities ware well prepared to market their online programs effectively.
The Texas Tribune notes that the conference on Public Education actually felt like a confab of private sector boosters. 

It would come as no surprise that the private company behind the event — Academic Partnerhips, which helps public universities convert courses into online offerings, recruits students for the online courses, and provides subsequent support — has a strong interest in such technologies. The company and its founder, Dallas-based entrepeneur Randy Best, also have the political and financial capacity to attract a high-caliber line up of speakers hosted by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt.

“We have a mutual relationship and admiration for Randy Best, who is a great Texas entrepreneur,” Bush explained during an interview with the Tribune. “Higher education reform and how we transform it for the 21st century is just top of mind right now.”

Linke to Texas Tribune Article:

Here’s what folks over at Inside Higher Education wrote about the conference:


In an interview, Best said that his company’s goal for the meeting — in consultation with Hunt and Bush — was to “expose our public sector friends … to the extraordinarily exciting thing that happens to be going on while we’re all here”: the transformation that technology is bringing about in society, and how it can help public colleges and universities continue to thrive in an environment in which states are gutting funding and families are getting fed up with ever-rising tuition prices. For-profit colleges have been the primary beneficiaries of the shift to online learning, Best said, and public universities should not cede that terrain.

He described the shift to more technology-driven instruction and online learning by public colleges as “inevitable,” said he hoped the meeting (and others like it) would contribute to an environment that drives the shift “more rapidly than if we had not done this.” By sponsoring the conference, he acknowledged, Academic Partnerships “wants to be identified with what is going to happen anyway.”

“Just about every meeting has sponsors, and to put up money, sponsors have to have some reason to do it,” he said. “We want public universities to thrive. If they win, we have to win, because we are tethered to them.”

Via InsideHigherEd:

Govs. Bush and Hunt write this essay in InsiderHigherEd, outlining their current message to such colleges:

Rising costs and reduced government funding in the wake of an economic recession have resulted in financial burdens that our state universities have never known before, and it is clear that funding is unlikely to return to pre-recession levels. These financial realities are compounded by tech-savvy students demanding a high-quality education when, where and how they want it. Today’s students live lives that are divorced from the static, brick-and-mortar reality of institutions built for 19thcentury economic circumstances, leading Ralph Wolff, president of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, to conclude, “Our business model is broken.”

Addressing these issues in their entirety will take time, but today — right now — colleges and universities must embrace new digital and online delivery tools to make educational content available to degree-seeking students wherever they are, whenever they need it. Doing so will allow colleges and universities to raise revenue, increase access and contribute to America’s long-term competitiveness.

The 2010 U.S. Department of Education’s “Review of Online Learning Studies” found that students who took all or part of a course online perform better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction. Similarly, a study conducted in the same year by the internationally known scholars Mickey Shachar and Yoram Neumann that analyzed 20 years of research on the topic showed that in 70 percent of the cases, students who took distance-learning courses outperformed their counterparts who took courses in a traditional environment.





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