The Interview

MSU Denver President Stephen Jordan charts higher ed’s changing course

By Leslie Petrovski

Publish Date: April 22, 2013

Steve Jordan
 MSU Denver President Stephen Jordan

Q: What trends do you see shaping higher education?
A: First, return on investment — the value of the degree after you leave the institution. Related to that is, how are you going to use technology to constrain, if not lower, the cost of getting an education? Third is the whole question of how institutions will play together, particularly how well students can move from one institution to another and the portability of their credits. Fourth is how institutions will give credit to people for their life experiences in order to reduce the time and cost of a degree.

Q: I want to go back to ROI. What can we do to help keep higher education affordable for the masses?
A: We are going to make tools available to help [students] sort out the question of return-on-investment and to help them understand that they don’t necessarily have to go to the flagship institution. You can get a degree in an area that you’re interested in at a more affordable price. You will be able to go online and compare what the tuition net and first-year salaries would be between institutions, and you can decide as an informed consumer which [school] makes more sense. You at least ought to understand what the differences are going to be for what you are going to pay in terms of outcome.

Q: Let’s look at public higher education funding.
A: Well, we won’t have to look very long because there isn’t much. For the foreseeable future we don’t see a likelihood of significant increases for higher education, which means if you are going to sustain the operations of your institution and have any vision of actually growing that in some meaningful way, you have to be thinking about how you reduce costs on the expense side, and how you generate more revenues through other kinds of relationships, in our case private-public partnerships. It’s not going to come just by raising tuition.

Q: How would you respond to this statement: Every young person should have a four-year degree?
A: I would say that’s not true. Some two-year degrees can be as good or better an initial investment than a four-year degree. I would say that not everybody has to have a bachelor’s degree, but by far a large majority of people — like 80 percent of them — must have some post-high school education.

Q: What are your priorities with regards to students?
A: First and foremost we have been focused on the issue of retention and graduation, particularly with a population of students that can be academically fragile. They are not necessarily coming in with either the highest high school GPAs, SAT, ACT scores or a history of family participation in higher education. So we want a lower cost, but we also want better retention and graduation rates.

Q: What can colleges and universities do for underrepresented students?
A: There are a number of things I think will be important. The first one that you have to overcome is the issue of affordability. And, it’s not enough to accept these students into your institution. It’s about what you’re going to do to help them to achieve and how the institution accepts responsibility for their retention and graduation. All students are capable of succeeding. We really believe that. But they may start at different places, so how do you put together an array of support services to help them? We as a public institution accept responsibility that the faces of our students should mirror the faces of our community, in particular with respect to Latino students. We saw such a demonstrable difference there that we had a responsibility to change that and to really work at creating an environment where people felt welcomed and treated fairly.

Read an expanded version of the interview with President Jordan, including discussion about retention and graduation rates, diversity, online education, and credit for prior learning.