07/11/2012 09:35 am ET Updated Sep 10, 2012

Getting Work Done in a Wobbly Economy

As the economy continues to wobble, the public is looking to higher education as one of the levers to use in seeking a means to provide more people with a quality, affordable education, with stable costs, that will lead to a career.

We need to maintain the distinct missions of our institutions. We have hired faculty and support staffs to accommodate those specific missions and student demographics. Community colleges need to provide training for the workforce. Colleges such as my own need to focus on providing excellent four-year educations that supply outstanding general education and the entry-level credential for many professions, notably community service providers (such as teachers, businesspersons, social workers, and nurses), while supporting some training and research. Universities need to pursue a focused research agenda. Merging institutions with different missions or allowing their missions to blur is not the answer to reaping cost savings while maintaining quality and getting work underway.

Instead, each type of institution should be asking how public-private partnerships can be leveraged to save funds and actually increase quality. Let me give a few examples. My college is completing a bus shelter that was designed by the students at New England Institute of Technology (NEIT) and reviewed by their faculty. In turn, I am using donor dollars to construct the shelter, so NEIT's students have the joy of seeing their ideas become a much-needed and much-used structure. Similarly, an antique building on campus was given a face lift through architecture provided pro bono by Roger Williams University and by donated labor and materials from local contractors.

Linkig outside facilities to academic programs, the college has established a very successful and high-demand program in Medical Imaging in partnership with Rhode Island Hospital, which provides the clinical training on state-of-the-art equipment that the college could not possibly afford. In a similar vein, the college is establishing the state's only nurse anesthetist graduate program in partnership with St. Joseph's Hospital. The costs for these programs are shared by the college and the partner, and together, we are able to deliver exceptional programming that neither of us alone could develop -- with no additional investment by the college or the state, no additional administrative overhead, no additional facilities investments, and no increase in tuition.

Will future foundation funding be made available to support faculty time and/or consultant time to investigate more such creative public-private collaborations? If so, I would surely like to receive a copy of those proposal guidelines.