Chancellor Douglas A. Girod

Navigating The Modern World Chancellor Gray-Little's Keynote Address to the 2010 Reinvention Center National Conference

Friday, November 12, 2010

Remarks as prepared for delivery

When I initially submitted my title, "Navigating the modern world," it had a subtitle, "what our students need to know." The title was motivated by a caption, which said: "Most successful job candidates need to have the skills, experience, and comfort that would make them ready to go anywhere." In other words, the focus was education to prepare for a global society and global workplace. This topic fits well with the Reinvention Center's long standing focus on internationalization and globalization.

About three months ago, I called the Reinvention Center office and asked that the subtitle be removed. The reason was this: increasingly, my attention was being captured not so much by what our students needed to know to be successful in a global context, as by what we as faculty, staff, and administrators should be thinking about; that is, the context for undergraduate education. What do we need to know to navigate our modern world? Answering that question may have implications for what our students need to know and, especially, for how we instruct them.


I attended the first Reinvention Center conference in 2002 and had also worked with Wendy Katkin and others in planning that conference. There was a good deal of excitement about that first effort, about our common purpose, and about the changes we hoped to see in undergraduate education at research universities. This activity was especially meaningful to me as I had recently completed my tenure as senior associate dean for undergraduate education at Carolina, and hoped to bring an emphasis on undergraduate excellence into my new position as executive associate provost.

I looked back at the conference agenda and reviewed the document that was the impetus for it: the Boyer Commission report, "Reinventing Undergraduate Education." The Boyer report's concern was that research universities, and I thought perhaps especially public research universities, shortchange their undergraduate education programs.

Research universities require world class scholars, who warrant high salaries and reduced teaching loads, and who attract talented graduate students (Tobin, 2009). The Boyer report argued that - given the focus on scholarly productivity, on research funding and national scholarly prizes - the well-being of undergraduate students would too often take a back seat, with responsibility for their instruction relegated disproportionately to graduate students and lower ranking members of the faculty.

So, how could we ensure a focus on quality undergraduate education in research universities?

By the time the second conference rolled around in 2004 I was again a participant, but this time as the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, so that I had oversight, though one step removed, for some of the programs such as first year seminars, undergraduate research office, internationalizing the curriculum, and expanding experiential learning, that I had helped to organize just few years earlier.

In other words, the strong development of the Reinvention Center and its programs occurred at a time that was optimally reinforcing of what I was doing professionally.

There was a great deal of support for strengthening undergraduate education from other organizations as well; the AACU stands out as an important example.

Here we are eight years since the first conference. We have made substantial progress in several areas. Numerous colleges and universities have renewed their general education offerings to emphasize connections, problem solving, and experiential learning.

Because we are the sites where much of the research and creative activity occurs, research universities are distinctly prepared to offer students undergraduate research as a type of experiential learning. We have a special opportunity to ensure that our students learn the values and methods of the disciplines we teach.

While as research universities, it seemed natural that we should be involving our students in research - our specialty - many liberal arts colleges have also embraced undergraduate research as one of the hallmarks of success, and often engage a higher percentage of students than research universities. Moreover, it is no longer rare for community colleges to tout undergraduate research opportunities for their students.

At present undergraduate research is a buzzword everywhere. Indeed, involvement of undergraduates in research has been described as one of six high impact practices that enhance the quality of undergraduate experience (Kuh, 2008; Shouping et al., 2008). Although, the benefit of research participation is not limited to high achieving students, there are predictable disparities in participation by ethnicity and academic preparation.

There is an important complement to focusing on research as part of undergraduate education. If we think research is important, then we should also incorporate evidenced-based practices in our teaching and curriculum development, a point made so effectively by Carl Wieman with regard to science education. In the third conference both aspects of research were prominent on the agenda.

At the second and third conferences several speakers also addressed globalization and the internationalization of curricula. The encouragement of study abroad has expanded apace in the last 10 years.

Although economic worries may slow down study abroad growth, this emphasis also has been outstandingly successful, both in terms of increasing participation and in the differences such experiences make to college students.

Study abroad experiences are among the most frequently cited experiences about which I have heard students say, "This changed my life, this changed my worldview." I even met one alum who credits his study abroad experience with enabling him to meet his wife.

My impression is that alumni donors, especially from the business community, have supported efforts to expand study abroad opportunities, and often have been willing to contribute to study abroad scholarships.

Thus, my assessment is that the Reinvention Center and these conferences have been associated with very important, successful developments in enhancing the quality of undergraduate education.

The areas outlined above reflect changing practices and emphases in an environment that we feel we control: renewing our own curricula, emphasizing student participation in our research, making students aware of approaches to knowledge, emphasizing globalization in our curricula and encouraging study abroad. We are well aware, however, that universities do not operate in a vacuum.

THE GROUND OF OUR EXISTENCE: Changes in our foothold

While we have successfully undertaken a number of initiatives aimed at improving undergraduate education, we also face changing circumstances: changing expectations from students, policymakers, donors and employers, as well as shifting financial resources and a new competitive environment.

Thus as we consider what we need to know to navigate the modern world, we first must look at how that world is changing. How do we respond to a world where universities are expected to do more, while also doing it more quickly and cheaply? How do we adapt to an economy that entices students to pursue academic careers that are more specialized, at the expense of broader liberal arts education? And how do we compete in an environment where a college education is supposedly just a mouse click away, from the comfort of your own home, and at a time convenient to you?

Of course, all of this is occurring during a period when financial resources are stagnant, at best, and typically are declining. There is no question that we have witnessed a stunning disinvestment in public universities as a result of the recession. In virtually every state, institutions of higher education have seen state funding slashed, often by double digit percentages.

In response, we've made layoffs and eliminated positions in the ranks of faculty and support staff. Furloughs are widespread, as are salary cuts. Some universities are even looking at other tactics, such as four-day work weeks, to cut costs.

Of course parents and students are feeling the effects, too. As a result of cuts, those students who do get into the desired program may face the prospect of larger classes and fewer course offerings, which can impede their progress to graduation. And there is no question those students will be paying more for the privilege, as tuition rates around the country have skyrocketed in response to a decline in state support. Some institutions have been forced to implement mid-year tuition increases. It would be difficult to argue that such changes have had a positive effect on the quality of education.

Other universities have moved beyond paring down and tinkering around the edges to taking steps that structurally reshape their offerings; including eliminating entire schools, such engineering and journalism, which seemed fundamental to their offerings.

Meanwhile, the University of Oregon has asked legislators to essentially let it become a private institution, substituting future annual appropriations for issuance of bonds to fund a one-time payment that would be invested in its endowment. This action would be unprecedented and shows just how unreliable state funding has become for many institutions.

In Kansas, which has traditionally supported higher education with healthy state appropriations, there has been a steady decline, and for the first time resident students are paying a higher percentage of the cost of their education than the state. And though I recognize many other public universities passed this point long ago, it is an important milestone marking the transition from state funded universities to what some call "state assisted."

Private institutions are not immune from the effects of the recession, as endowment returns saw huge declines during the stock market dive. Endowments suffered a nearly 19 percent loss in FY 2009, with drops of nearly 30 percent not uncommon. Two years ago a colleague at premier private research university told me that the university had lost about 30 percent of its income that year.

Though the stock market appears to be rebounding, endowments are climbing out of a deep hole and have not returned to pre-2008 levels. Continued economic uncertainty has donors nervous about their own financial well-being, making them less willing to donate.

In this time when loss of endowment or of state funding increases pressure on tuition, students may also have fewer opportunities for financial aid, because the demand has increased. States that offered guaranteed scholarship plans to in-state students are facing shortfalls. For example, Georgia's famed HOPE scholarship plan is facing a half a billion dollar shortfall over the next two years.

Given the economic reality presented to our students, is it at all surprising that they are trending toward degree programs that they believe will offer an immediate payoff upon graduation?

Changes in what students study: The decline of the humanities major

There have been many erudite, and some heated, discussions about the reasons for this decline.

We might agree with Patricia Cohen (2009) who argues that humanities must justify their existence. Or with Stanley Fish (2008) that the humanities must be appreciated for themselves; and do not need to be justified by reference to an exterior purpose or application. Or we might concur with Jim Leach (2009) that there is an enormous cost to foreign policy when we ignore the humanities, which offer expertise in history, language, and cultural understanding - areas that are critical to international problem solving.

Whatever one's perspective on the role and value of the humanities, the current economic situation is likely to hasten the decline in majors unless we find better ways to "market" the edge that a humanities major can provide.

Although the change has been gradual, its accumulated effect is quite dramatic and could easily have structural implications for our universities. In the past two decades the number of humanities majors - English, foreign languages, literature, and history - has declined about 50 percent.

There obviously are consequences of the decline in undergraduate enrollments in the humanities. There are implications for the number of faculty we have in these fields, the number of graduate students we can reasonably train, and those graduates' prospects for obtaining faculty positions. This year the Modern Language Association reported about a 27 percent one year drop in the number of jobs in English and in foreign languages, following a similar decline the year before (MLA, 2010).

This decline presents a challenge for the entire university. William Chace, former Emory president, observed that English departments are now regarded by those who manage the university treasury as more a liability than asset (Chace, 2009). To what extent do we preserve the same size and structure of humanities programs that we offer to undergraduates? Or the size of humanities faculty? To what extent will the strength of the humanities "voice," which is so key to a liberal arts education, be sustained at our universities?

The Corollary: "When the going gets tough, the tough take accounting."
(Brooks, 2010)

Paralleling the decline in humanities majors, the number of business majors increased slightly more than 50 percent over the same period (Chace, 2009). The number of economics majors has also increased. When the job market worsens, many students figure they can't indulge in an English or history major, even though that might be their favorite subject. They have to study something that will lead directly to a job.

In a study modeling the effects of expected salary on Duke undergraduate major choices Arcidiacono, Hotz, & Kang (2010) showed that if expected earnings were equal across all majors, then the students choosing humanities and social science majors would increase by 17 percent and 10 percent respectively, while those choosing economics majors would fall by 16 percent (Duke does not offer an undergraduate major in business).

It would appear we are educating a large number of students for careers they'd rather not pursue.

Policymakers often weigh student demand and enrollment in making decisions about resource allocation. It is reasonable to assume that just as humanities enrollments and department size decline, there are increasing numbers of faculty members in areas such as business and economics, and an increase in their influence on the university policies and decision.

But the question still remains: How does this shift change the nature of what we do at a university? We have set ourselves apart from other institutions of higher learning by offering a more comprehensive education. If we lose that, we lose one of the differentiators that supposedly make a university education more valuable.

And beyond just the effect on universities, what does a shift away from liberal arts do to our students and, by extension, to society and civilization? John Hofmeister (2010), former president of Shell, recently argued that there cannot be an adequate solution to the world's great problems, whether energy or poverty or war, without consideration of the cultural, religious, and environmental issues relevant to these problems.

Whatever the ultimate answers to those questions, there is no doubt that change in what students study is creating opportunities for institutions that in the past were not seen as competing with research universities for students. These include community colleges and for-profit schools.

Changes in where students study: The rise of community and for-profit colleges

Regional universities, and particularly community colleges, have the benefit of cost - a potent advantage in the current economic climate.

Make no mistake: community colleges themselves have made significant gains in the quality and diversity of degree programs they offer. For example, the University of Kansas is just down the road from Johnson County Community College, which is an excellent institution that serves about the same number of students as KU and with which we readily established partnerships.

But there ultimately is a difference in the sort of education you can receive at a community college and the education that is available at a research university. Some of that difference comes from the areas that the Reinvention Center has been working on, such as the rich opportunities for research experience and global awareness. That difference may not always be evident. We need to do a better job of making the difference compelling to students and parents whose first inclination may be to look at the cost, rather than the benefit.

And although students don't spend their entire academic career at a community college, and instead take part in a 2-plus-2 program, that is still a 50 percent reduction in the credit hours that student will take from the research university.

What is lost or gained by having students start at the university halfway through their academic careers? Are the students less likely to be active at the university during their careers, as well as when they become alumni? Are they less likely to become donors?

And equally important, what does the student miss out on by being at a university for only two years? I think we would all agree that the experiences outside the classroom - the activities, events, even just daily life with a diverse group of fellow students - play an important role in a student's development. Such outside the classroom activities are less likely to be an integral part of community college experiences.

Ultimately, it is important to ask: When is it educationally desirable for a student to begin college a community college versus a research university or other four year institution? For example, Bowen, et al. (2009) found that for high-achieving students, starting at a community college seems to present a barrier to successful college completion. Because of the increasingly important role of community colleges in higher education, however, it is important for research universities to work with them to ensure the smooth and successful transfer of students from their institutions to ours.

While we see increased competition from institutions that are able to play up their low cost relative to our tuition, we are also seeing competition from the opposite end of the spectrum: for-profit institutions that very often have tuition rates that are quite high.

It was easier to ignore for-profits 10 to 15 years ago, but the industry has seen a significant expansion in recent years. The Government Accountability Office released a report in October showing that enrollment at for-profit institutions rose by 83 percent from 2003 to 2008, going from 1 million to 1.8 million students. During that same period, all other higher education institutions saw only a 9 percent increase.

Many of these students are individuals for whom a traditional four-year university is either not of interest, or because of their circumstances, not an option. But some of these students may very well be choosing a for-profit school in preference to a university, and I would not be surprised if we saw still more direct competition in the future.

The percentage of minority enrollment in for-profits (at 47 percent in 2008) greatly exceeds that the percentage of underrepresented minorities undergraduates in four-year colleges, about 27 percent (IPEDS, 2009; National Academies, 2010).

The University of Phoenix now leads all institutions in the number of bachelor's degrees awarded to African-Americans (Blumenstyk, 2010). The trend for African-Americans is so striking that Tom Joyner of the Tom Joyner Morning Show has developed a foundation to help historically black colleges and universities develop online courses to compete, and at same time try to offer some of support system, "the history and heritage" that would traditionally be found at an HBCU.

Disproportionate enrollment of minority students in for-profit colleges shows that they are filling a need that other institutions are not. It also raises the specter that the kind of college education increasing percentages of minority students receive will differ from the traditional college experience. And as minority students become the majority in the next few decades, there will be a strong pattern of matriculation at for- profit institutions.

Even if we do not think we are not competing with for-profits for students, there is an area where we are competing: federal financial aid.

There are finite federal financial aid dollars available to students and for-profit institutions are receiving a disproportionate share of the pie. That same GAO report revealed that while for-profits had only 9 percent of total enrollment in 2008, they received 23 percent of federal student aid dollars. That share is growing: for-profits had a 210 percent increase in federal financial aid dollars from 2003 to 2008, while all other institutions had only a 69 percent increase.

The for-profit industry will point out that their tuition is much higher and that more of their students are low-income, therefore they will need more federal aid. But as our students seek ways to finance their education, we must be aware that students at for-profit institutions share same pot of financial aid money.

Changes in how students study: New technology on campus - and off

Changes brought by technology are altering the way we deliver education in the classroom, while at the same time expanding our ability to do so outside the classroom.

Most undergraduates today are unlikely to remember life without the Internet as a constant presence. They expect more integrated use of technology to enhance the classroom experience, or even to replace it.

Let me acknowledge that there are many variants of technology-mediated learning or online education. They are not equivalent, nor are they meant to be. Some involve online presentation of traditional teaching approaches; for example, the University of Kansas School of Medicine podcasts all first- and second-year lectures. Ninety percent of students use the podcasts in some way and 30 percent of them use them in place of attending live lectures.

We have found that students who rely solely on the podcasts do just as well as those who attend lectures, except for the subset who enter with the lowest MCAT scores. That group tends to do better when they attend lectures.

This sort of evidence, and the experience of the thousands of faculty and administrators who oversee online degree programs, lends support to the view that you don't have to be in a classroom or even on campus to get the benefits of higher education.

Other approaches, such as the Online Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University, attempt to teach students in hybrid courses featuring some in-class time, but also extensive interactive computer learning, designed to capitalize on the cognitive processes involved in learning. Here too, the finding is one of comparable learning and retention in comparison with more traditional classroom methods. However, students in the hybrid course had a higher rate of course completion and required less time for course completion than those in traditional sections. The OLI approach seems best for courses, such as statistics and science courses with structured, sequential content. Though they promise economies, the cost of developing and evaluating such courses has been enormous, beyond the resources of most departments, but through sharing such courses become economical.

A number of prominent universities, George Washington University, Boston University the University of Southern California and the University of Florida, among others, are working with online companies to compete with for-profit institutions in the online market, thereby blurring the distinction between for-profit and university offerings (Parry, 2010).

Northeastern University in Boston offers an MBA program, which has been outsourced to a private company. Thus the private company is offering the degree under the aegis of the university and university's name will appear on the degree. The company, Embanet, which offers the degree, reportedly spends millions of dollars in developing degrees, can offer them through numerous universities with slight accommodations for each one, and receives a substantial portion of the tuition, in some cases as much as 85 percent.

From the point of view of efficiency and, possibly, quality, this approach is very reasonable. Yet this new breed of online collaboration challenges the notion of what constitutes a university's curriculum and blurs the lines between college and corporation, or perhaps, it better blends college and corporation.

There are two issues here. The first is that we need to determine the best use of electronically mediated tools to enhance our curricula regardless of whether the advances come from universities or from private companies.

The second is this: there are hard questions to be considered when universities offer under their auspices courses and degrees which are developed by others. Whose degree is it anyway? For example, what will the wholesale embrace of industry produced degrees mean about institutional identity and about faculty roles and responsibilities? I can envision an environment in which universities become retailers for educational products and services we did not create, but on which we put our brand, a model reminiscent of Sears marketing of Kenmore appliances, which were made by other manufacturers. The increasing availability of such educational products in combination with the loss of traditional resources and our need to attend to the bottom line may increasingly drive our decisions (Bok, 2003).


We navigate in a context of shifting financial resources, advancing technology, increased options for delivery of higher education, changing demographics, and at a time when there are increasingly challenges to the pre-eminence of the U.S. higher education system. To avoid being swept by currents beyond our control and to be successful we need to be deliberate, but also avoid being bound by inertia or the sense that we have the academic freedom to do things as we always have.

The research university must become more entrepreneurial. At the same time, we must not lose sight of what sets us apart from other institutions of higher learning.

It is a basic principle of economics that differentiation allows us to provide specialized capabilities and excellence that a uniform approach cannot achieve. In the context of higher education, it is unreasonable for all students to be educated at research universities, and it would similarly not be appropriate to put all students through an education focused just on getting a job in a particular field, especially since careers change multiple times on average during one's life. Community colleges, for-profits, regional universities and liberal arts colleges all play a part in the United States in achieving President Obama's goal of increasing the number of adults with post-secondary degrees.

If we recognize, and even celebrate, the differences among higher education institutions, we can more effectively take full advantage of the tremendous opportunities that research universities can make in undergraduate and graduate education.

What this means is that we need to give thought to the kind of student and the kind of experiences that are best matched at a research university. The rich connections among disciplines, which hold the key to any productive examination of the issues we face, expose our students to an important culture of thinking. That thinking is the key to the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship that drives our society and economy. It is important that students from all ethnic/racial and economic backgrounds, and not just those who can afford private institutions, have access to this type of education. That's one reason for the importance of public support of research universities.

We should be preparing students to use research/scholarship to address the problems of the world and confront uncertainties with confidence that they can create answers and establish new certainties.

We need to enunciate clearly to students and society the advantages of studying at a research university and be prepared to change ourselves to ensure we are offering the best education and conducting relevant, high-quality research. In short, much of our success depends on the extent to which we can continue to reinvent ourselves.

Thank you for your kind attention and best of luck as you each chart your institution's course in this new world.

Works Cited

Aricidiacono, P, Hotz, J.V., & Kang, S. (2010). Modeling college major choices using elicited measures of expectations and counterfactuals. Unpublished manuscript. Durham, NC: Duke University.

Blumenstyk , G. (September 2, 2010). Tom Joyner Venture Will Help Black Colleges Start Online Programs. Chronicle of Higher Education.

Bok, D. (2003). Universities in the marketplace: The commercialization of higher education. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Bowen, W. G., Chingos, M.M. & Mcpherson, M.S. (2009). Crossing the finish line: Completing college at America's public universities. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Boyer Report. (1998). Reinventing undergraduate education: A blueprint for America's research universities. Stony Brook, NY: SUNY at Stony Brook.

Brooks, D. (2010, June 7). History for dollars. The New York Times.

Chace, W. (2009). The decline of the English department: How it happened and what could be done to reverse it. The American Scholar. Retrieved from

Cohen, Patricia. (2009, February 24). In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth. The New York Times.

Fish, S. (2008, January 6) Will the Humanities Save Us? The New York Times.

Government Accountability Office. (2010). For-profit schools: Large schools and schools that specialize in healthcare are more likely to rely heavily on federal student aid. (GAO-11-4) Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Hofmeister, J. (2010, October). Beyond technology: U.S. energy policy for the future. Paper presented at the meeting of AAU Presidents. Rice University, Houston, TX .

IPEDS. (2009). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2008 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Leach, J. (2009, November/December). The gentleman from Iowa. Humanities, Vol. 30, Number 6. Retrieved from

MLA Office of Research. (2010, March). Midyear report on the 2009-10 MLA Job Information List. New York: Modern Language Association of America.

National Academies. (2010). Expanding underrepresented minority participation: America's science and technology talent at the crossroads. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Parry, M. (2010, July 18). Outsourced education: Colleges hire companies to build their online courses. Chronicle of Higher Education.

Shouping H. K., Scheuch R., Schwartz J., Gaston G., & Shaoqing L. (2008). Reinventing undergraduate education: Engaging college students in research and creative activities. ASHE Higher Education Report

Tobin, E. (2009). Modern evolution of America's flagship universities. In W. G. Bowen, M. M. Chingos, & M.S. McPherson (Ed.), Crossing the finish line: completing college at America's Public Universities. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press., Vol. 33 (No. 4).

One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
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Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
5th nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets: Colleges," Military Times
Chancellor's Vision

The mission of the University of Kansas is to lift students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities, and making discoveries that change the world.

We will do that by raising the expectations we have for ourselves, the aspirations we have for our state, and the hopes we have for our world.