Leadership & Governance

Federal Official Urges Colleges to Unite in Emphasizing Their Public Value

January 30, 2011

American colleges and universities must speak with one voice and communicate a strong and singular vision for higher education in this country, said Eduardo M. Ochoa, the U.S. assistant secretary for postsecondary education.

Mr. Ochoa, a former provost and vice president for academic affairs at Sonoma State University, in California, issued his challenge in a keynote speech at a gathering here of the Association of American College and Universities, a group that advocates for liberal-arts education.

Financial support for colleges is undergoing a fundamental shift, Mr. Ochoa warned. If colleges hope to maintain financial backing, particularly from the public, they will need to "speak with one voice and articulate a clear vision for higher education and its centrality to the health of the economy of the nation."

Because of the decentralized nature of American higher education, the sector has not put forth a coherent and forceful argument for its importance, Mr. Ochoa said. That has led to "misperceptions" about colleges' value among the American public, he said.

Colleges need to show how they are responding to strategic goals such as expanding educational capacity and improving program-completion rates, Mr. Ochoa said. Increasing the number of Americans with college degrees has been a central theme of President Obama's education policy.

Still, the federal government is not in the best position to make the case for higher education, Mr. Ochoa said, urging colleges to speak up for themselves. "It's important for higher education to frame the discussion. If not, it will be done by others."

Mr. Ochoa added that colleges must rethink how they do business because "the resource picture has changed, and it's not going to change back soon. In other industries, they've reinvented how things are done."