President Knapp Discusses Future of Higher Ed at Milken Global Conference

Dr. Knapp and other GW participants join hundreds of thought leaders at the annual event.

President Knapp speaks during panel discussion at conference
George Washington President Steven Knapp speaks on a panel about the future of higher education at the 2015 Milken Institute Global Conference.
May 01, 2015

George Washington University President Steven Knapp said universities must do a better job matching academic outcomes with employer needs at the four-day Milken Institute 2015 Global Conference in Los Angeles.

“When I started teaching at the University of California-Berkeley, we would periodically review curricula and review requirements for departments. It never occurred to us to ask students what they wanted to study,” Dr. Knapp said on a conference panel Monday. “It never occurred to us to ask what society was looking for or what employers cared about.”

He joined three other university presidents and U.S. Department of Education Undersecretary Ted Mitchell to discuss the future of higher education. The panel, moderated by journalist Jeffrey Selingo, focused largely on access and affordability during a time of rising tuition costs and increased competition from newer postsecondary models like online courses and competency-based education.  

The Global Conference brings together more than 3,500 attendees and 700 speakers to discuss global challenges in education, business, health and technology. Bill Dietz, the director of GW’s Sumner Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness, and Lynn R. Goldman, the Michael and Lori Milken Dean of Public Health, also spoke on panels.

During the higher education conversation, Dr. Knapp stressed that colleges of the future are going to need to find new ways to accommodate a growing population of non-traditional students. He pointed to the School of Nursing’s “guaranteed admission” agreement with Virginia community colleges and GW’s veterans programs as examples of successful university-community partnerships that are increasing college access to more students.

He said universities must strive to strike a balance between traditional liberal arts teaching and a more “market-oriented” education that addresses industry and societal needs. He also called for a more seamless integration among high schools, colleges and employers, so that all three are working together to help students succeed.

“It’s kind of ad hoc at this point. It would be great to have something more systematic,” he said. “I would love to see the Department of Education, which I know it’s striving to do, become the brokers for a conversation about how we can put these sectors together in a seamless way.”

Watch the panel discussions in their entirety:

Dr. Knapp discusses the changing role and future of higher education with presidents from Purdue University, Miami Dade College, Davidson College and U.S. Department of Education Undersecretary Ted Mitchell.

Dr. Dietz joins representatives from the Milken Institute, Packaged Fresh, Herbalife and Partnership for a Healthier America to talk about how food companies, restaurants and policymakers can make healthy food accessible and affordable to all.

Lauren Ingeno