John L. Hennessy
John L. Hennessy President, Stanford University
That's a very good question, and a complicated one. The key word is access. In the end, what we have to do is ensure that young people can have access to education at a price that's affordable that they don't walk out the door with so much debt that it hinders them for the rest of their life. A college education does have great economic value, so we should expect individuals and families to be willing to invest in that, but it is about access and ensuring we have access. We've got a lot of things to balance as a country. We're either going to solve and face up to our entitlement measures or we're going to really find that we live in a very different country, a country where economic growth is slow, where the opportunities for young people are very limited, but where you're guaranteed a great social safety net if you want to retire when you still have 10 or 15 years of useful productivity left. We've got to rethink all these issues.
One of the things I find fascinating, when Social Security was created, the life expectancy was equal to the age which Social Security began – 65. Today, the life expectancy is considerably higher, particularly for a young person. We've got to rethink about all these issues and put them together in a different way. If we can begin to solve those problems, I think we can then begin to think about financing and understand the role that higher education plays in ensuring that economic growth and opportunities are available for young people.
Clearly the universities also have to do their parts. How do we think about making ourselves more efficient, so that we can deliver what we do better? And thinking about the entire ecosystem that's higher education – the role of the community colleges, which do a tremendous role and play an incredible role in that, the role of the universities and colleges that are not research-oriented institutions, but which can do their job more cost-effectively than a research university. And we've got to think about that entire ecosystem and continue to make it strong.
If you look at the U.S. as a country, and say, "Where are we really dominant?" it's higher education. We're still considered the best in the world in higher education. And we should remember that as we go forward and try to reform this system, making it more affordable, rethinking about policies – how do we get parents to think about saving for higher education when they begin their life? How do we think about affordability and accessibility for people? And I think if we do this in a rational, thoughtful way, we can get to a place where we can guarantee access for young people.