From the President

Moving Emory Forward

By James Wagner, President, Emory University

President James Wagner

In the last issue of Emory Magazine, I outlined the point of view that guides Emory as we move forward in the face of economic, political, and cultural uncertainty (just what is a college degree worth, many ask).

Key to our point of view are four truths: (1) higher education is more complex than generalizations in the media suggest; (2) research universities like Emory will become more, not less, important; (3) despite their importance to the world, research universities will face unprecedented financial stress; and (4), the future still beckons with great opportunities.

Let me dwell on those opportunities.

Opportunity 1: Global demand for American higher education will increase, not diminish. In recent years most colleges in the US have experienced huge growth in enrollment of students from abroad. International students in Emory College jumped from 3.8 percent of the entering class in 2005 to 12 percent last year. While many of these students plan careers in business or science, a large number are drawn to the sort of liberal arts curriculum that Emory offers and is hard to find at home.

True, China and India are building colleges at a fast pace, so the tide bringing their students to US campuses may ebb. Yet even if students in Asia decide to study at home, the expansion of higher ed in Asia offers career prospects for American scholars. India plans to build a thousand universities, although its existing colleges and universities cannot yet hire enough faculty members to teach the students they already have. Demand for education in Asia may well be met by Americans teaching in New Delhi or Nanjing—some with Emory PhDs.

Opportunity 2: New technology can be used to increase efficiency and effectiveness. Stanford and MIT, among others, have been experimenting with so-called “massive open online courses” (MOOCs), which enable a professor to reach tens of thousands of students around the world with a single course. At Emory we are collaborating with several peer universities to offer online courses for credit toward a degree. Our schools of public health, business, and theology already incorporate distance learning in several programs. Emory’s iTunesU and YouTube offerings have had millions of downloads—many for language instruction—and Emory continues to lead in digital archives and libraries. Making an Emory education available on a large scale, without losing the value of face-time mentoring or students’ mutual education, will take more thought and planning, but the prospect is real.

Opportunity 3: Emory can initiate new revenue-producing activities while being true to Emory’s values and character. Our deans and faculties have been developing new master’s programs to appeal to professionals who want expanded skills and knowledge. A juris master’s program in the law school, for instance, attracts men and women who have no intention of practicing law but want a firmer grounding in law as it applies to journalism, health care, business, engineering, or other fields.

While offerings like this expand Emory’s traditional ways of educating and nurturing scholarship and research, we can push the envelope in other ways and still retain excellence. As the single university with the most new drug discoveries during the past forty years, Emory is creating new opportunities to support translational drug development—stepping in to bring to market new therapies that pharmaceutical companies find not worth the relatively smaller return on investment, but that are nevertheless critical to the world.

Opportunity 4: Emory can develop a growing base of passionate lifetime supporters. With an excellent division of Development and Alumni Relations, a growing responsiveness from grateful Emory Healthcare patients, and the prospect of completing our fund-raising campaign by January, we have a strong foundation for support into the future. But we can do more. Through more strategic enrollment management we can recruit more applicants for whom Emory is the first choice, bringing to our campus a cadre of students already passionate about being part of Emory. Through enhanced career placement programs, we are building relationships that will continue into our students’ first postgraduate experiences and invite their engagement as committed alumni.

Opportunity 5: Great possibilities exist for strong domestic and international partnerships. We are fortunate to have a cross-town partner in Georgia Tech, whose strengths complement Emory’s, and who recently joined us in the AAU. The growing range of Emory-Tech collaborations gives each of us greater advantage in attracting research dollars and incubating new technology ventures. Similar possibilities exist worldwide, and we have been looking at several in the Middle East and the Pacific Rim.

Universities—especially research universities—have been adapting to new challenges continuously since their founding. If we are able to adapt to these new opportunities, we cannot be certain that we will usher in a new golden age of American education, but we will certainly move Emory forward in its mission of teaching, discovering, preserving, and applying knowledge in service to humanity.

Email the editor