Great leadership requires a bold and compelling vision, and the ability to make that vision a reality. Even in the best of times, this is a tall order. But when times are bad — when resources are scarce and partisanship is the norm — great leadership is even more difficult.
As recent events have shown us, these tough times are now upon us. But the federal government isn't the only place where leaders are facing increased scrutiny and criticism. All parts of the public and private sectors are being watched. Higher education and its leadership aren't immune. Survey after survey comes down hard on higher education, with respondents believing academia is moving in the wrong direction, prices are too high, too many are dropping out and students aren't getting the skills they need to succeed.
But there are exceptions. Take chancellors Gordon Gee at Ohio State University and John Sharp at Texas A&M, where two of America's largest public universities have demonstrated a thirst for creativity and change on a massive scale.
Gee's innovative tactics over the past two years have helped bring in $1 billion through creative financing strategies — all for the academic core. One example is leasing the management of campus parking operations to outside vendors. It brought in $483 million, which went to the OSU endowment and enriched that fund by more than 20 percent in a single day. More than 50 colleges and universities are considering a similar plan.
Gee is also a member of a state board that's helping recruit companies and more jobs to the state. This links the university directly to the workforce. IBM is locating a new analytics center in Columbus that it will bring 500 well-paying jobs. IBM selected Columbus, in large part, because of the aggressive nature of Ohio State and its business school.
Gee and Ohio Gov. John Kasich have devised a plan that would tie half of the approximately $600 million the state annually allots four-year institutions to how well those colleges did in graduating students over the three prior years. The other half would be tied to course-completion rates.