Higher education expert Peter Blake explores the “perfect storm” facing our nation
by David Slipher
How must colleges and universities successfully adapt in a rapidly changing environment?
It’s a perpetual challenge that Peter Blake, director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia confronts as a key player in the commonwealth.
During a recent Wilder School Lunch and Learn virtual seminar, Blake explored the uncertain future of higher education and offered strategies and opportunities for transformation.
For Blake, a perfect storm of three main factors key to influencing the higher education environment: shifting demographics, increased education demands in new jobs and rising tuition expenses.
Meeting the needs of the proliferation of diversity in student populations is vital for success, Blake explained. As the demand for degree-holding careers continues to grow, a diploma is no longer the primary finish line for high school students. But resource support for these groups is not matching the rapid increase in demand for college degrees.
Blake emphasized the need to engage certain segments of our population more deeply in higher education. According to him, these populations include: “some of the fastest growing populations new Virginians, racial ethnic minorities, minority students, first-generation students, low-income students that need more that we need to involve more deeply in higher education are those that we historically have served less well.” Critical attainment gaps, especially those associated with race and ethnicity, income inequality, rural geographies, and disability status are well-documented, Blake explained.
More and more professions are requiring associate, bachelorette and advanced degrees for applicants to be career competitive. Blake cited research from Georgetown University, which reported that over 90% of new jobs, not replacement jobs, created since the 2008 recession required some kind of education beyond high school.
Increasing costs and the perception of the value of a college education are also straining universities as they adapt and seek new ways to generate revenue. State support and resources, which were already on downward trends, have plummeted since the 2008 recession. Value perceptions of return on investment are also challenging continuing public support and taxation.
“If you have the pressures not only on the student and the family, but also, from the taxpayers, how much, how much tax money can you continue to put into higher education?” Blake asked.
Blake then examined solutions to address this trifecta of factors and shared examples of the ways in which Virginia is innovating to produce competitive graduates and the associated economic and societal impacts. His work with SCHEV gives him the unique opportunity to work alongside key stakeholders, like the governor, General Assembly, Board of Visitors, and other key organizations of higher education. These groups forecast trends and gather feedback to shape action plans at a generational level.
He also fielded questions from the audience and issued a call to arms for each individual to help ask questions and develop practical solutions to improve higher education outcomes.
“We need all of us to be thinking together about how to address those (challenges) in creative and effective ways in order to sustain, our lifestyle, our society and the things that we value in our communities.” – Peter Blake