Office of Planning and Budgeting

A Master Plan for Higher Ed in the Midwest?

Earlier this week, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs released a new report authored by current professor and former  University of Michigan President James Duderstadt. The report, A Master Plan for Higher Education in the Midwest: A Roadmap to the Future of the Nation’s Heartland, chronicles the overall failure of the Midwest to transform itself from economic engine of the industrial age to being at the forefront of the knowledge economy.

Duderstadt identifies what he calls lifelong and lifewide education as the key to succeeding in today’s economy and in the future. Like many, he argues that more Americans will  increasingly need to access different forms and levels of education throughout their lifetimes if they are to succeed in a rapidly and continually changing economic landscape. The report lays out a roadmap for a newly imagined, highly collaborative, mission-diverse and better funded regional higher education system.

Duderstadt’s proposals include:

  • Broadening boundaries beyond the state, increasing collaboration between institutions and governments, and creating a more systemic perspective that integrates all of the entities that comprise a ‘knowledge ecology’.
  • Increasing higher education engagement with the K-12 system to increase educational performance and transition.
  • Facilitating movement between institutions in the region, but also emphasizing the importance of mission differentiation.
  • Adopting best practices from other countries, specifically highly successful European models including polytechnic universities and alternative ways of dealing with the transitional years of grades 11-14.
  • Shifting the funding paradigm for public higher education including a high tuition, high financial aid model, and  implementing differential taxing of future earnings as Britain currently does.
  • Expanding higher education, including the creation of new institutions focused on non-traditional students.
  • Increasing regional investment in R&D, strengthened focus on tech transfer activities, and investment  in cyberinfrastructure.
  • Rebuilding the perception that education is a critical public good that requires healthy investment and support.

Overall, Duderstadt imagines more autonomous institutions that can react quickly to a changing environment, are accountable to the public through specific and measurable performance targets, are adequately funded through higher tuition levels and increased public investment, are differentiated strongly by mission, and serve a much larger and diverse population of students.  He imagines that both public, independent, for-profit and new kinds of institutions will all have an important role to play in this system.

Duderstadt acknowledges the large influence of both the California Master Plan and the Bologna Process in the creation of his roadmap. He lays out next steps for a more detailed study and creation of an implementation plan, and also also allows his inner futurologist to to come out in the last chapter where he envisions how these system changes will  prepare the region to succeed in a longer-term future that will be transformed again and again by technological discovery and development.

Read at least the executive summary if you get the chance. And if you are interested in other imaginative proposals that have been put forward in the last year, check out a few of our previous posts:

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