Bill Gates addressed the business officers of colleges and universities Monday at the annual meeting of the National Association of College and University Business Officers in Seattle. He began from the premise that “all lives have equal value” and that the United States stands for equal opportunity. He opined that higher education is one of the key elements in providing equal opportunity for all and, that for this to happen, we all need to have equal access to higher education and an equal chance of succeeding. He noted that college graduates will earn almost double what high school graduates will during their lifetime and that unemployment rates of college graduates are very low. He also noted that there are non-pecuniary benefits to a college degree.
He was clear that our colleges must deliver value and we must measure what they are delivering. He noted that our business model in higher education is under challenge. He suggested that we are beyond being able to fine-tune the model and will need to see radical change. Our revenue sources are challenged and we cannot expect to see them increase in the coming years and thus we must develop much greater efficiencies in how we deliver our product. We need to ask the difficult questions about what programs schools offer and how much duplication we need. He sees fewer departments and schools in the future. He challenged the business officers to be front and center in measuring the effectiveness of what is offered at our colleges and universities.
He expects to see major innovation in the delivery of instruction and the support systems which colleges provide to students over the next several years. He anticipates the rise of some outstanding MOOCs that will beg the question of the role of the professor. He sees a day when the lecture component of a class is a commodity much like a textbook is today. He sees a future with better pedagogy provided by a few and colleges and universities providing the social context to motivate students.