Higher ed's future

No one has a completely reliable crystal ball to see the future of higher education in Missouri, but one person has a vantage point that gives him a better view of things to come than anyone else: Dr. Robert Stein, the state's commissioner of higher education. Stein has more than 40 years of experience in higher ed. He joined the Missouri Department of Higher Education in 1986 and became the commissioner in 2006. Now scheduled to retire in June, Stein has some sobering words of advice for the state's colleges and universities: Get ready for radical changes.

This forecast comes as higher education in Missouri struggles with an unprecedented financial squeeze. Federal stimulus funding that has propped up these institutions is about to go away, and officials are going to face issues that require significant innovation.

Stein suggested how colleges and universities might prepare for the future in a recent letter to campus presidents and chancellors. His ideas include merging some institutions and closing others or even privatizing some schools. He suggested class sizes may have to increase, while athletic programs might need to be cut.

These are not scare tactics. This is a brush with reality. Stein is to be commended for his bold stargazing.