COLUMBIA — Hank Foley, the newest executive for the University of Missouri System, thinks Missouri should raise the next generation of entrepreneurs rather than the next generation of farmers.
Foley is executive vice president for academic affairs, which includes systemwide oversight of research and economic development. Noting Missouri's increasingly diverse workforce, he said that its citizens might work five or six jobs in their lives and that self-employment will likely be part of their job history.
Rather than the Jeffersonian ideal of yeoman farmers, Foley thinks a technologically savvy entrepreneurial workforce is the answer to furthering the state economy.
"I think we’re responsible for providing our students with a toolbox that they can use so that they can be self-employed when they need to be or aspire to be self-employed for their careers," he said. "But either way, those skill sets, are wonderful if you're in a business."
Foley, 57, came to MU in August from The Pennsylvania State University, where he was vice president for research and graduate school dean.
One wall of his office at 309 University Hall is covered in black and red ink. He had it specially painted so he could sketch out metrics, dashboards and plans for strategy on the system and campus levels.
Foley recently expounded on funding for education, the role of technology in learning and MU's rankings in the Association of American Universities. Here are excerpts:
Since 2004, the University of Missouri System has had a shift in how education is funded. It used to be more state-funded, and now it’s more student-funded. What kind of impact is that having on students and their academic performance?
Students are feeling the pinch. Students' families are feeling the pinch. There's more borrowing going on. I think that's a topic that’s been covered a great deal. I think it’s just a fact of life.
The cost of Chevrolets has gone up over the last 30 years, the cost of education has gone up over the last 30 years, but the economy has not kept pace. Tax revenues are not there. I don't blame the states — the taxes just aren't there to do the appropriations at the same levels they used to, if they're going to use the same percentage of their money for higher ed. So they have had to make a choice.
It's a devil's bargain. If you give more money to higher ed, you're taking more money away from other programs that are also very good programs. I think they've kind of tried to do their best in most states — I’m thinking Pennsylvania and other states — and it's painful for us in higher ed. But it is, I think, the best you can do under the circumstance.
What we really need is to lift the economy; get it going again. We need young people out there trying to start businesses. We need to make it easy to start businesses. We need to make it more than OK to fail and even easier to start the second one.
Ten years ago, we were starting to tell young people, even 15 years ago, in engineering and business, that they would probably work for five or six companies during their lifetimes.
Now we would say, not only would you probably work for different companies, you'll probably work for yourself at different points. Maybe instead of looking at that as scary, we should give you all the tool kits you need to be entrepreneurs from now on.
I think it would be great. (Thomas) Jefferson had a view of a nation of yeoman farmers. Maybe the best we could get, or the closest we could get to that today, is yeoman entrepreneurs.
One of the strategic goals that the university states for the Columbia campus is to raise the (Association of American Universities) standing four places by 2018, from 32 to 28 out of the 34 public universities in the AAU. How do you intend to do this from the academic affairs perspective?
(The AAU describes itself as a nonprofit association of 60 U.S. and two Canadian preeminent public and private research universities. Members are ranked based on research spending, the number of faculty who belong to National Academies, faculty awards and citations.)
I think the key to that is really focus. It means looking at what are the measures that the AAU is using to evaluate us and going out and hitting and hammering on those points as hard as we can.
It's actually pretty simple. What we have to do is make some tough choices, we have to recycle some money, put it into a pot in the provost's office, basically, and then we have to use that money to go out and hire people who are either close to National Academy of Sciences status, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Philosophical Society.
There's a range of societies that people can be in. The more of those people you have, frankly, the higher your numbers go.
Then we need to, at the same time, put clusters together of younger faculty members who will be mentored by those excellent, more senior faculty members. We need to pick some keys areas, and I think the Mizzou Advantage that came out a few years ago, really had done a very nice job of picking areas that were especially relevant to AAU.
The trick in all of that, though, is that the humanities have to realize that we'll do our best to keep them not just doing well, but thriving. There are certain areas, like chemistry and physics, that really weigh heavily into the AAU metrics, and they're costly, so we have to have a broad discussion of that and hopefully get aligned to realize that if you want to do this, and they do, this is what it's going to look like over the next few years.
All boats will rise on the rising tide.
With those professional associations, is UM just paying for the name or will the faculty with those ties actually be a worthwhile investment?
I think they're worthwhile investments. I think the people who are at that level are really the people who are truly the best in their fields. What we need to do is bring a few more of those people into the sciences, into engineering, into some of the humanities areas — Pulitzer Prize-winners — so then we can hit the objective measures that the AAU uses, but really it's a lot of other stuff, to0, that the humanities do contribute to, but more subjectively.
So we have to have both, and we have to really try to raise everything at the same time, and I think we can do it. I think people of goodwill will come together around this, independent of their area, what their background is, because they love the university.
Regarding funding models, the joint commission on education is tossing around a model that’s more performance-based. What’s your view on that?
I think performance metrics are a great thing, and I think that the idea of trying to live up to those metrics and using them is a good thing. I think we can overuse metrics on the other side, and there's some things in some parts of our economy that are easier to measure than other things.
For example, it's easier to measure the outcome of a Ford factory, how many Fords they produce, the quality of Fords, than it is for me to really measure the output of the University of Missouri in Columbia.
I can count the number of students, I can see their GPA, but things like that are harder to really quantify. It's a different kind of business, and we have to realize that we can apply metrics to all different kinds of businesses, but they apply better in some realms than other. That said, the performance metrics the governor came up with are really very good. I like them, and I think they’re reasonable.
Textbook prices have risen about 800 percent in the last three decades. About 30 percent of textbooks at the Mizzou Store have a digital component, according to a 2013 Mizzou News article. As you're overseeing eLearning, where would you like that number to be?
I think where eLearning fits in is in different ways. One is outreach. I think we could reach out to many, many more students who are place-bound with eLearning, online learning. Again, it's got to be high-quality. We're experimenting with that. We have some really nice models around the system now of people who are doing things with eLearning.
I would point to some of the things that are happening. In Rolla, for example, there's a new chemistry course down there where students can take the course, they can sit in the classroom, they can sit in their dorm room while the class is being given, or they can take it asynchronously.
Similarly, we've got some courses down there that are going out to major corporations where they're using studio classrooms of the new kind, not the 20-year-old kind, that are involving green screens and very sophisticated technology, so it's from one end to the other.
We have other people doing the flipped-classroom thing, where they're putting their media up, and their lectures and so forth online, and then going to class to solve problems. Problem-based learning approach with media.
Where I think this is going to go over the next few years is really exciting. I think by the time you're my age, the whole impact of technology will become more fully embraced.
We’re at the beginning of this era, so it's hard to make predictions, but we really do want to make eLearning to be the death of distance, so that it lets people who wouldn't ordinarily be able to get access to our courses to get it. We want to use eLearning to drive even better learning outcomes, so that students who are really digital natives and comfortable with this, see things in the sort of modalities that they learn best in.
Ultimately, some day, I would like to think we would have mass-produced, customization of education. That sounds like an oxymoron, but it's not. What it really means is that you could start whenever you want to start, you could finish whenever you want to finish. You can mix and match and put things together as you wish. That's the direction, I think, that all this will go.
Maybe we'll have superstar teachers, I don't know. Maybe they'll establish their own little universities in the sense, but they won't be universities, they'll be enterprises of different kinds. It's going to be exciting to watch. I'd love to live another 100 years and see it.
If you had to describe your job description to an elementary student, how would you do that?
I wouldn't. (Laughs.) So, my job involves three distinct areas. Academic affairs, research and economic development. Academic affairs is everything that has to do with our degree programs.
The core of the university's function in teaching. There's all sorts of issues that come up in keeping track of those programs, making sure they stay up to date, creating new programs, eliminating programs that aren't working so well. Just a plethora of things that we do day in and day out.
Research obviously is embedded in everything that we do at public research universities, so what we're trying to do is always stimulate, as much as possible, the research enterprise and to try to help it grow and become more excellent. That really means the people. Everything we do is all people. It's all faculty and students.
Third leg of the stool is economic development. The idea there is through education and research, we should be able to drive the economy to get better. That's a very hard thing to do.
To some extent, teaching does that. Obviously, as we help the individual achieve more academically, typically they do better in life. The numbers are there to prove it.
The second piece of that, though, is the research we do. What we're trying to do there is even better than we've done in the past. Just sort of drive new science into new technology into the real economy, and there are a couple different ways we can do that:
- We can do that by licensing our technology, if we've patented it.
- We can also do that by licensing technology to entrepreneurs who want to start new companies around it. One of the strategies is you license to a small company and they start a business.
- Around the other end of the spectrum is, you license it to a large corporation — a Monsanto or Boeing — and they take it and embed it in some technology that they already have or that they want to start. Either way works, and then there’s a lot of stuff in between.
Those are the three key things we do. Could I really tell an elementary school kid that? I don’t know. Some smart kids would get it.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.