Chancellor James B. Milliken

Chancellor James B. Milliken

Appointed to start on June 1, 2014, James B. Milliken serves as Chancellor of The City University of New York. »

Competitive Challenges Intensify

May 8, 2008 | CUNY Matters Columns

Today, CUNY and most other public universities entrusted with the same important public mission that they have always had, are challenged to meet that mission in a very different marketplace. Several trends are pushing us to rethink established models of public higher education.

First, there has been a steady decline in state support of public higher education. The result is that tuition and private donations constitute a larger portion of public universities’ total revenue. This redefines a university’s relationship with its traditional students and supporters. At the same time, the historic role of public institutions in educating students from all socioeconomic backgrounds is today more important than ever. In order to maintain their responsiveness, public universities will have to become more entrepreneurial.

Second, the large and growing endowments at many private and public universities are enabling these institutions to invest in students and faculty at a level well beyond that of other universities. The Chronicle of Higher Education’s 2006 analysis of data from the federal government and from the National Association of College and University Business Officers summed up in the situation in stark terms: “In the past 10 years, endowment assets per student at the richest baccalaureate institutions grew by nearly $127,000, an amount more than 10 times greater than the growth among the bottom quartile, where assets increased by only $8,600.” We cannot underestimate the importance of endowment income to support higher education; it affects faculty salaries, the number of full-time faculty, and student-teacher ratios.

Exacerbating these consequences is a third trend: There will soon be a huge outflow of faculty who were credentialed in the mid- to late ’60s. According to the National Study of Postsecondary Faculty, the percentage of faculty age 55 and older has grown from 24 percent in 1987 to almost 35 percent in 2003. In fall 2006, CUNY faculty were on average 2.8 years older than their national peers, with almost 48 percent age 55 or older. Of the full-time faculty who responded to the national survey, 30 percent said that they would probably retire in the next 10 years.

At the same time, enrollment in higher education is expected to grow. The National Center for Education Statistics projects a 12.6 percent increase over the next eight to nine years. Increasing retirements combined with growing enrollments will lead to a substantial demand for new faculty. One of the results will be an intensification of contentious “bidding wars” among universities for top-notch faculty.

The fourth and final trend is that our global “innovation economy” requires renewed attention to the need to educate our citizens—every citizen—to the highest level possible. But too few students are earning the advanced degrees they need to be participants in this global environment. As a Brookings Institution study recently pointed out, this has devastating consequences when it comes to economic mobility. The widening gaps in education levels between rich and poor, and between whites/Asians and blacks/Hispanics, have made it far more difficult for those in the poor and middle class without a college degree to become upwardly mobile. There is no question: A college degree remains an extremely powerful tool in improving one’s station in life. But only 11 percent of children from the lowest fifth of earners earn a college degree, while more than half of the children from the top fifth do.

All of these trends must be addressed by public institutions, particularly through attention to financing models and faculty recruitment efforts.

A few years ago, we introduced the CUNY Compact as one such response. This funding approach is intended to encourage shared responsibility for the University’s revenues—through government; alumni, friends, and donors; students; and the University itself—and to enhance serious investment in CUNY. The Compact model provides for a more rational tuition policy to help students prepare for and meet college costs. We have also been working to build the University’s academic reputation and its research capacity, and to provide every student with the highest-quality education, even as our enrollment grows. These efforts depend on a talented, productive faculty, and CUNY simply must foster its ability to recruit competitively.

Like other public institutions, the University is working to meet marketplace challenges in creative ways. New models are needed to enable public universities to maintain their prominence and their ability to set the standard for teaching and research. Our institutions must operate with flexibility, nimbleness, continuous investment, and performance rewards. Those that do not will undoubtedly be left behind.

From Chancellor Goldstein’s remarks at the 35th national conference of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions, April 7, 2008. The full text is available at the CUNY website: