'The Model Has Changed': Mark C. Reed on Higher Education

Mark C. Reed, the new president of Saint Joseph's University, recently gave an interview to The Hawk, the school's students new organization. The interview covered a number of topics, including the challenges facing higher education. To a question about the financial problems facing the university and how he planned to address and fix those issues, Reed said: 

“I’m glad you asked this question. I learned a lot about SJU during the search process, and by all metrics and indicators I have seen, SJU is in solid financial position. However, as I said in my introductory remarks last Wednesday, it’s no secret that American higher education is under enormous pressure – and private, residential, liberal-arts based, tuition-dependent higher education in particular. Saint Joseph’s fits every one of those descriptors.

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The true problem, as I see it and have experienced first-hand, is that the previous business model of the prior 30+ years no longer applies. You no longer increase tuition between 5 and 7% every year, fund everything you want to, and just keep going. It’s changing the model that causes angst and in some cases disruptive tension on campuses like Saint Joseph’s. There is nothing I can tell that is unique about the challenges that SJU faces. So that’s good news. However, what it also means is that there are no easy solutions or they would have been found and implemented by now.

So what is it going to take? First, a willingness and acknowledgement by all at the university to accept that the model has changed and we must change with it. Trying to make the previous model simply work better is not going to work long-term. At the same time, we can’t forget who and what we are – a university and one with a wonderful Jesuit mission. Second, we have to take a hard look at what SJU does well and also be honest about what we could do better or might not be able to continue doing at all. And when we do this, we need to invest in new things (academic programs, student services, etc.) and curtail others…The diversification of revenue streams from academic programs and other activities is of paramount importance. Expense growth cannot outpace revenue growth. Again, when you look at SJU’s financial performance of the past several years, there is solid ground from which to build.”

 

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