On Tuesday the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs and the Lumina Foundation for Education hosted a debate about the future of higher education. Four college administrators, DeVry Inc.’s Daniel Hamburger, University System of Maryland Chancellor William Kirwan, Yale University’s Richard Levin, and LaGuardia Community College’s Gail Mellow, debated whether or not the business model for higher education is broken. A broadcast of the debate is available here.

As Paul Fain wrote of the event in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

In a discussion that featured several pointed exchanges, the “team” of Mellow and Kirwan argued that higher-education finance is indeed fractured, parrying with Levin and Hamburger.

Mr. Kirwan said state budget cuts are harming many universities, particularly in places like California and Washington State, and that the nation’s production of college graduates will remain flat without an extensive re-engineering across higher education.

The two defenders of the existing business model may have made for an odd alliance—hailing from a for-profit giant and an elite research university—but they echoed each other in Mr. Hamburger’s take on American higher education: “The strength of our system is its diversity and its flexibility.”

Diverse and flexible higher education may be but, according to Mellow and Kirwan, it’s also floundering. State support for higher education this year stands at a little less than $80 billion. That’s 1.1 percent less than 2008-09 and 1.7 percent less than the year before that. At some public universities, state support makes up less than 20 percent of their budgets. This is despite the fact that public schools (community colleges and state colleges and universities) enroll about 80 percent of college students. The Yales and DeVrys of the world, according to the moderator, were in fact more like the “niche players” of higher education.

But if the higher education model is broken, no one seemed to quite know how to fix it. While the debaters seemed to agree that technological innovation had potential to help colleges save money no one knew what the new, improved funding model for higher education might be.

Check out this Miller Center white paper about the same issue. [Image via]

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer