Skip to main content


Trustee Deborah Spar stands at the podium to deliver her inauguration remarks
Photo by Joel Haskell

Dear Friends, 

It is a pleasure and an honor to be with you here today, and to celebrate the inauguration of Dr. Brent Chrite as the ninth president of Bentley University. 

It is a happy day, and a joyous event. It is particularly wonderful — after so many months apart, so many hours spent missing our families, and worrying about our loved ones, staring into our own tired faces on Zoom — to be together as a community in this space, on this campus, and to be participating in a ritual (the robes, the process, the entire pomp and circumstance) that predates all of us by hundreds of years. 

It would therefore be inappropriate, on such a happy and historic day, to dwell too intently on the pressures that now regularly confront the world of higher education, or the expectations being placed upon it. But as a representative from the higher education sector, and a recently recuperated college president myself, I’d like to take a few minutes this afternoon to describe some of the challenges that lie ahead for our sector, along with the opportunities they present for both Bentley and its wonderful new president. 

President Chrite: ‘Bentley’s bold bets for the future’

To begin with, I would be remiss not to note that the core of our financial model, the model that has existed ever since the birth of American higher education in the 17th century, has simply become too expensive for many Americans to afford. 

This isn’t necessarily the result of bad people making bad decisions. It isn’t all climbing walls or lazy rivers. (I’ve been told that Bentley has neither….) Rather, the rising cost of higher education simply reflects the fact that what we do is both inherently expensive and difficult to scale. When you double the number of students in, say, a freshman writing seminar, the quality of instruction shifts accordingly. When you introduce more students into a residential campus, you need more dorms, more advisors, more classrooms, more everything. In academia, the marginal costs rarely go down — which means we are intrinsically expensive. In 2022, only an estimated 11% of students at four-year research universities were able to pay full tuition — and that’s already only considering students who felt empowered, and able, to apply to those schools.   

So clearly, the future of American education will be — must be — based in large part around tackling the central issue of affordability; that is, it must entail not only cutting costs, but also widening resources, providing more generous financial aid, exploring more efficient and innovative pathways to get students to and through a college education, and, critically, expanding the pool of students to include those millions of young people who don’t yet see college as something that is potentially within their grasp.  

This is a tough set of issues to contemplate, but it’s also an area where Bentley, and Brent, are poised to excel. Bentley has a long and storied history of providing a high-quality college education to students hungry for one. It has an equally long and storied history of solid fiscal management and financial stewardship. The educational sector of the future will need more of these skills and this example; it will need more channels through which ambitious young people can see their futures and craft their lives, gaining an education that will help support them financially as well as intellectually.  

Meanwhile, of course, and somewhat counter-intuitively, even as the value of a college degree is becoming increasingly evident, the value proposition of that degree is also coming under attack.  

We know, statistically, that a college degree is incredibly beneficial. To give you one data point: of the 11.6 million jobs created in the United States between 2010 and 2020, over 8.4 million of them — 72% — have gone to individuals with bachelor’s degrees. On average, bachelor’s degree recipients earn $25,000 more each year than high school graduates. So on purely financial terms, a college education is definitely worth the price of admission.  

More importantly, we know personally and anecdotally how a college education can fire the mind and change the future of any young person lucky enough to attain one. I have seen, and suspect many of you have as well, how the eyes of a nineteen-year-old can literally light up when they find that spark; that eureka explosion; that moment when several different strands of knowledge suddenly collide in their brain and they see the world in a new way. In their own way.   

You don’t get those moments by accident; you don’t get those moments without learning from dedicated educators; without being in classrooms and on campuses where ideas are purposely meant to collide.   

But that argument in favor of higher education is indeed an argument today rather than a commonly-held belief. Especially in the wake of the pandemic and all it has wrought, many non-educational organizations are offering alternatives to a four-year university degree — some very good, and some very bad. Many critics — from the political right, the left, the center, and everyone in between — are voicing their dissent around what a college education is, and should be.  

Part of this criticism is undoubtedly our own fault. And part is well-deserved. College is too expensive, as I stated earlier. Colleges, in general, have not innovated radically enough, or tackled the constraints on free speech — and increasingly, even, free thought — that have become rampant across many of our campuses. 

But higher education is too precious, too critical, too fundamental not only to our economy but to our nation to let it wither, or be disrupted out of existence. And Bentley, once again, is in an enviable position. Because a Bentley education has always been about learning the craft of real-world skills. It has always been about understanding the techniques of business and management; of refining and examining those techniques through the vital prism of the humanities and other liberal arts; and, ultimately and explicitly, it has been about using business tools to address societal issues. Or as a current construction has it: about changing the world through and for business. This is what the world of higher education will need more of in the future, not less.   

A Bentley education has always been about about learning the craft of real-world skills ... about changing the world through and for business.
Debora Spar

So, what will it take to lead Bentley into this future, and why are we so lucky to have President Chrite at the helm of this university at this critical moment of time? Let me share three observations. 

Number One: Educational leadership over the next few decades will demand not only intelligence, but also what my mother would call common sense. Cleverness. Wisdom. It will take the ability to define a very specific mission for each institution of higher learning, and then to work with the community to craft a strategy that fits that institution’s assets, its resources and its aspirations. This is harder than it sounds. Because not all colleges and universities can do the same thing. They shouldn’t. Instead, they — and their leaders — need the wisdom, the common sense, to figure out what they are particularly good at it, and where they can double-down and be better. They need to break away from the jargon of education and really figure out what kind of learning they want to deliver, and to whom.  

Thankfully, Brent Chrite has already developed and demonstrated that kind of wisdom. At the University of Denver, he led efforts to develop an entirely new curriculum, based around having students solve real-world problems and work together in innovative learning modules. At Montclair’s Feliciano School of Business, he created a center for entrepreneurship, helping to increase graduate enrollment by 24%. And at Bentley, he has already displayed his formidable intellect and his ability to depict — not only where Bentley is today — but where it can be in the future. 

Number Two: The institutions that will thrive in and define the future of higher education will also be those with the guts and the gumption to make tough decisions. In the past, universities could reasonably hope to be all things to all people. They could offer a full range of majors; a complete slate of activities and extracurricular options. They could — usually, and with some finesse — manage the often-competing demands of students, faculty, staff, parents, and alumni. That delicate balancing act will no longer suffice. Instead, universities and their leaders will need to examine their trade-offs more directly, deciding where to focus, where to excel, and where to step back. This is tough, especially in an environment where bottom lines are few and frequently ill-defined. 

But in Brent, Bentley is lucky again. This is a man who has led programs in Rwanda and Afghanistan, some of the most complicated regions of the world. A man who made the extremely tough decision to cancel his college’s Division One sports schedule during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time when many other leaders were reluctant to take such drastic steps. This is a man who proposed to the woman who is still his wife six weeks after meeting her.  

In the months since stepping into the presidency, Brent has already moved with speed and alacrity, tackling difficult decisions and managing the always-complicated process around them. He is never rash, never impetuous, never mean. Rather, he weighs his decisions. He consults widely. He considers the options. And then he acts. 

Finally. Number Three: The piece that is often neglected, but matters so much. And that is heart. Caring. Kindness. Soul. Higher education is a tough business. It is challenging business. It can feel — often does feel — like a thankless slog. But the people who are really good at it; the people who can change it, and sustain it, and make it thrive, are the ones who can see and communicate the sheer joy of the enterprise. These are the people who are continually concerned, not only with the superstar faculty or a handful of students, but with ALL students. The ones who strive to make their campus an intellectual community; a place of learning; a home. These are the educational leaders who commit to their university’s mission with every fiber of their being — and the ones who remain perpetually willing to seek and revel in the magic that education can, and should, bring.  

Brent is that kind of leader. He is that kind of person. He has seen the transformative power of education in his own life and has dedicated his life to bringing that same transformation to others. I look forward to watching Bentley evolve under his wise counsel, and to seeing what its very bright future will bring. 

‘The type of leader we hope all of our students aspire to be’

‘I’ve never known a finer man’