Does higher education need a new lesson plan?

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The debate among college administrators and officials gathered this week at the National Press Club was in part over whether the United States needs a new model for higher education.

Stanley Ikenberry, interim president of the University of Illinois, is one of those who thinks a new model may be needed.

“I think what isn’t clear is how to make public higher education in this country sustainable over the long term,” Ikenberry said earlier this month in a meeting with the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. “The answers of the last 50 years I don’t think are going to work for the next 50 years. The question is: What are the answers for the next 50 years?”

Getting the right answers is important not just for education, but also for the economy, Ikenberry said.

“The major public and private universities – but particularly public universities around this country – have been major engines that have fueled economic progress in the United States during the 20th century,” he said.

The economy also depends on “a well-educated work force and the highest level of creativity and innovation we can produce,” U. of I spokesman Thomas Hardy said.

As for students, “There is a lot of interesting research right now that indicates that not only are higher lifetime earnings at stake and membership in the middle class at stake but a whole range of things that we have never thought about, in terms of lower mortality rates, better health, more civic engagement, lower rates of smoking – just almost any indicator that you look at – is favorably influenced by the amount of education that you have,” Ikenberry said.

“Without some significant education beyond high school, you really don’t have a fair shot in our society.”

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