UT System chancellor discusses future of higher education at #LBJ50 event

Sophie Ryland

UT System Chancellor James B. Milliken discussed the future of higher education as part of a Monday forum celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. 

The virtual forum, the second held this month, was called “In the Arena: Defining a New Destiny.” Other guests included philanthropist Melinda Gates, broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien, former UT System chancellor William McRaven, Georgia politician Stacey Abrams and Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

Milliken said while he believes higher education is the best investment an individual can make for their quality of life and civic responsibility, he does not think Texas is presently equipped to handle the needs of all its students.

“The good news is we have a lot of higher education in Texas today, but the bad news is … we have no bragging rights on educational attainment,” Milliken said. “We're 34th in the country in the percentage of our population with a bachelor's degree. So if we add to that twice as many people that need to get degrees over the next several decades, we're completely unprepared for it.”


Milliken said he advocates promoting community colleges, early college high school and preparing for the automation of many common occupations. 

The COVID-19 crisis inspired him to think about future possibilities in higher education, Milliken said.

“Instead of having a lost generation of students, students persisted,” Milliken said. “Students who were on track to graduate, graduated. … So I think we're going to see much more hybrid models of delivery in the future, even when we don't need to. I do think that as we continue to improve the quality of the technology available for instruction, we are going to be able to meet people where they live, where they work, and deliver education in a way that they need it and will benefit from it.”

Susan Binford, assistant dean of communications for the LBJ School, said their original plans to celebrate the anniversary in the spring were disrupted by COVID-19, but participants were eager to help move the commemorations to a virtual format.

“We made a conscious decision to pursue our original plan of bringing together diverse, leading voices to inform and inspire, albeit virtually,” Binford said.