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When the people with some of the greatest clout over the future of America’s universities and colleges convene in Austin, Texas, they’re not likely to attract very much attention.

They’re not athletics coaches, high-profile presidents, or marquee faculty who publish influential books. They’re not congressmen or legislators. They’re not rich donors or alumni.

They’re the representatives of philanthropic foundations, whose money — combined with the relative inertia of government and the higher-education establishment itself — has made them huge players in setting policy for the institutions that graduate the nation’s future workers and leaders.

At a time of growing economic inequality in America, Wesleyan University President Michael Roth urges colleges and universities to create a culture in which low-income students can thrive.

"America today is a land of much greater distance between the haves and the have-nots," Roth writes. "It’s always been the case that wealthy students could have a very different experience than those of limited means, but today the social distance created by that economic gap is so great that it can undermine campus learning."

He may be the leader of the free world, but when President Barack Obama proposed that the government grade universities based on their cost and success rates, a lot of other people were ahead of him.

At a time when students and their families are demanding to know what they’re getting for their mounting investments in higher education, several foundations and research centers are already working on new ways to show them.

Confronted with shifting demographics and rising operating costs, many presidents of small New England colleges say there will be a shakeout in the years ahead.

This summer, the New England Board of Higher Education conducted a survey of presidents and a high percentage of them agree: their schools ought to consider different models of education to compete successfully in the future.

Innovation Hub: College 2.0

Will the new face of college be a computer screen? 

WGBH's Kara Miller asked a panel of educational pioneers about the university of the future on this special edition of Innovation Hub, taped at Suffolk University’s Modern Theater in downtown Boston.

President Obama is preparing to hit the road on a two-day college bus tour that will take him across upstate New York and Pennsylvania to discuss the high cost of higher education.

In a letter emailed to supporters on Wednesday, the president promised "real reforms that would bring lasting change" to the way colleges and universities run their business.  

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