Higher education on ‘precipice of a transformation,’ Marquette president says

Mike Lovell, president of Marquette University, says higher education is “on the precipice of a transformation.”

“There has been a tsunami coming at us over the last 10 years… and it’s just about upon us,” Lovell said at a recent luncheon meeting of the Wisconsin Technology Council’s Innovation Network in Milwaukee.

Lovell, who was hired by Marquette in 2014, spoke on some challenges facing the university and other institutions around the country, including a growing scepticism about the payoff of pursuing post-secondary education.

“Our financial model is broken,” he said. “The financial model for higher ed has been broken for a while. … Debt has also led to a great price sensitivity, and people for the first time in our history are questioning the value of higher ed.”

And, he added, the entire delivery structure for higher education is shifting as well.

“The value is no longer the content you can teach in courses, but how you accredit the skills the students learn from that content,” he said.

Technology is evolving in nearly every sector of the economy, he said, making it harder to prepare students for industry.

“We are now trying to prepare students for jobs that don’t exist today,” he said. “In fact, I heard a statistic that for students that are in elementary school today, that 70 percent of them will be working jobs that don’t exist today.”

And with Foxconn entering the picture, Lovell says Marquette needs to step up efforts to produce students that are ready to dive into the next-gen economy.

“Foxconn could be our opportunity to transform ourselves and create an infrastructure and an ecosystem that will allow this region to transform in ways that we may not be able to imagine today,” he said. “They are going to need thousands of engineers and scientists at this facility that they’re developing — we need to make sure that we are producing as many people as we can.”

So far, Lovell says, higher education has not kept up with the pace of industry. He points to the 25 percent of graduates that are either unemployed or underemployed six months after leaving school as proof.

“I can’t emphasize enough that we have to think differently and act differently,” he said. “We need to do things differently, and we need to do it in a hurry. And for anybody that knows academic institutions, we move slow, and we’re very resistant to change — so change management has become a huge part of what I manage today.”

To enact some of these changes, Lovell and others at the college have been pushing forward with Marquette’s Beyond Boundaries plan, and the first phase of Marquette’s Campus Master Plan was approved at the end of 2016. He says these two things will lay the groundwork for the next 10 years.

Lovell said there are 12 major initiatives on campus to start pushing for faster progress, many of which are related to enrollment. As well as aiming to drastically increase the amount of research done at the university, some of the efforts on the horizon will push for smarter usage of resources.

“One thing that higher education is terrible at is monetizing our assets,” he said. “We’ve never thought of it — at least in my time — we’ve never thought of it that way, but we have housing on campus that’s empty three months a year. How can we generate revenue from that?”

He also mentioned having retail partners come into the buildings currently going up on campus, focusing more on fundraising, and expanding the university’s online presence. He predicted the population of higher ed will be 70 percent nontraditional students within five years, emphasizing the importance of staying innovative and catering to these students.

So far this year, the school added eight new majors on campus, putting renewed focus on bioinformatics, data science, environmental studies, health care analytics and more.

See more on Marquette’s Campus Master Plan: http://www.marquette.edu/strategic-planning/campus-master-plan.php

–By Alex Moe