Bill Gates Talks Performance Funding and MOOCs in Conference Keynote

Bill Gates, a founder of Microsoft and billionaire philanthropist, touched on a myriad of issues facing higher-education institutions during his keynote address on Monday at the annual conference, in Seattle, of the National Association of College and University Business Officers. Here are some of the highlights:

On access: “The United States really stands for the proposition of equal opportunity. We’re striving in our work [at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation] to have the U.S. maintain and strengthen that, where access to great education is the key element. When we ask about the strength of our country in the decades to come, renewing this strength, helping it stay on top is one of the most important things that we need to do.”

On performance-based funding: “Although in a certain sense measurements can be a very, very good thing, this is a challenge that we have to get out in front of, because inappropriate measures can be worse than no measures at all, because they can incent the wrong kinds of behavior.”

On MOOCs: “You’ll see emerge over the next five years some fantastic courses for remedial math, remedial writing, statistics, all the entry-level courses. … The net result of that is that the lecture piece will no longer be competitive.”

On adapting to the changing business model of higher education: “We have to deliver value, and we’ve got to measure that value, and really adjusting the resources so we’re doing that well is a mission for you, the business officers of the colleges and universities. You’re the ones charged with fiscal management, and that has huge impact on every aspect of the student’s experience. On the quality of instruction, the availability of financial aid, the physical plant, the support systems. All of those are trade-offs that the financial model drives. My key message today is that that model will be under challenge. And so, instead of tuning it to find 3 percent here or 4 percent there, which has been the story in the past, there will be dramatic changes. … The role of the business officer won’t be just finding that last little tuning, or getting the reports done. It will be to get in the center of the strategy, working with the educational leaders, the effectiveness measures, and figuring out how those goals and the financial numbers come together.”

The Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private grant-making foundation, has played a major—and controversial—role in influencing higher-education policy.

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