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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]

Leadership and Service

An impact beyond PLU: President Anderson discusses the future of higher education


PASSING THE GAVEL: At NAICU’s 25th Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., outgoing NAICU Board Chair William Troutt, President of Rhodes College (right), hands the gavel to PLU President Loren Anderson.

College population growth. Tuition. The economy. The relationship with the community. The dilemmas Loren J. Anderson faces as a university president are not exclusive to PLU, and he knows it. In the middle of a one-year term as chairman of the board for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, Anderson is primed to make an impact that stretches to academic institutions across the county. In that role, he has been actively lobbying national lawmakers and serving as spokesman for the nation’s 950 independent colleges and universities. Last month Anderson spoke with Scene about some of the key issues in higher education.

SCENE: Demographers predict a 20 percent increase in the nation’s college-age population over the next 10 years, with more high school students than ever applying to college. What effect will this have on these students? Will it be more difficult to gain admission to good colleges and universities? What should students in the 9th or 10th grade be doing now to prepare?

ANDERSON: Students over the next 10 years will find ample places to go and rich opportunities for study. Higher education as an industry is overbuilt today and has the capacity to serve more people than we are currently serving.

The admissions sorting out process among institutions is a complex one. There are certain institutions for which the demand will be even greater. But there are many institutions that will continue to work hard to attract top quality students. Students of good ability will have ample opportunity for choice.

Students considering college should be preparing themselves in the basic skill areas with the broadest possible curriculum through the high school years—demonstrating that they have learned, and more importantly learned how to learn.

SCENE: Are independent colleges and universities affordable for the average family? We hear a lot about tuition outpacing the consumer price index. Why is that? Do many students receive financial aid?

ANDERSON: The financing of higher education is a major issue for families. It’s true at both public and independent institutions. If you look at the national statistics, the average family incomes of students attending independent colleges are modest. Nevertheless, independent colleges and universities are more affordable than ever. Indeed, financial aid is available to 80 to 90 percent to students at a given institution—funded by the institution, by the state and by the federal government.

Yes, tuition increases have, over the long term, run 1 or 2 percent above the consumer price index—in part due to the combination of costs faced by higher education. For example, right now we are facing energy costs, fringe benefit costs and technology costs that are all moving at a pace significantly above the consumer price index and all are a significantly larger percentage of institutional budgets than they are of the CPI formula.

SCENE: The stock market boomed and then crashed over the past year. What has this meant for college and university endowment funds? Has support from donors been affected?

ANDERSON: Colleges and universities like individuals enjoyed incredible investment experi-ences in the ’90s. The result was huge increases—particularly for the largest endowment funds—and significant increases for all endowment funds.

At PLU between 1995 and 1999 we averaged 19.5 percent compounded annually on our endowment—just a tremendous track record. In the year 2000, we returned 4.6 percent. This year that experience is even less positive, and that is typical of schools across the country. It hasn’t meant an immediate reduction in endowment income but clearly over time it means less income from the endowment to help with operations.

The stock market downturn has also meant that donors are naturally cautious and in many cases are simply deferring decisions to support higher education institutions. This has been true here at PLU and across the country.

SCENE: PLU seems to have built a strong relationship with Tacoma and the Pierce County community. Is that something that the university has deliberately encouraged? Why? Do most colleges and universities make that commitment?

ANDERSON: For Pacific Lutheran University the matter of reaching out to the broader community comes quite naturally. It flows from our mission as a Lutheran institution and our educational philosophy as a New American College. Our notion of education, taken from Dewey, is that the best learning is both theoretical and applied. Our Lutheran theology of education says that we are ultimately responsible to lend a hand and to make the world a better place. So both our educational and our theological impulse says we need to be an active, contributing, and positive member of our surrounding community.

SCENE: What other issues central to independent colleges and universities have you been addressing?

ANDERSON: We have been struck by the public’s lack of understanding of the difference between public and independent higher education. Several recent national surveys show that people really don’t perceive a significant difference between public and private higher education. They don’t perceive the difference in terms of quality of instruction, personal interaction, opportunities for mentorship—all characteristics of the independent sector and not of the public sector.

So, one of the emerging issues for NAICU and other national affiliations of independent colleges and universities is to try to figure out how we do a better job of communicating that message.

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT NAICU, GO TO www.plu.edu/encore.


Pacific Lutheran University Scene
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