WASHINGTON, D.C. - Public higher education must change to expand opportunities for student access, say three Pacific Northwest university presidents who have signed an open letter issued today to chief executives of the nation's state and land-grant universities.
The letter was issued by 27 current or former public university presidents who comprise the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities. Signers include Samuel Smith, president of Washington State University; Daniel Bernstine, president of Portland State University; and Paul Risser, president of Oregon State University.
Their letter, titled "Returning to our Roots: Student Access," calls on public higher education to re-examine or change admissions requirements, clarify course credit transfers and articulation policies, encourage diversity, and build new partnerships with public schools. It also says schools should focus on what students need to be successful in college, contain costs, increase financial aid, and expand educational opportunities with technology.
Smith, who chaired the committee which drafted the commission's recommendations, calls the report "a telling study of the national importance of providing higher education access for everyone. We cannot become a country of 'haves' and 'have nots,' those with education and those without. The commitment of every higher education institution, public and private, to make its offerings available to more and more people is something that must be done."
He noted WSU's efforts are described in a case study in the report called "Washington State University: A Classroom as Wide as Washington." In the state, WSU offers access through its campuses in Pullman, Vancouver, the Tri-Cities, and Spokane; through Learning Centers at county Cooperative Extension offices; and through its technology-based Extended Degree Program available to students statewide.
At WSU, Smith said, "our intent is to make, as much as possible, higher education independent of time and place."
Included in the report is a case study from Portland State which shows how PSU has worked to become more involved in its community.
"We continue to face new challenges in broadening access to higher education, but I believe PSU is already taking a lead role nationally on many of the commission's recommendations," said PSU President Daniel Bernstine. "For years, we have worked closely with the Portland public schools system through academic programs and community service course work. Currently we are embarking on innovative ways of improving the student experience at PSU, to help our students succeed and make the most of their college education."
"Providing greater access to public higher education may be the most important moral and social issue of our generation," says Paul Risser, Oregon State University president. "The melting pot that is America now faces unprecedented need for an educated citizenry and workforce. We must open the doors of public higher education wider so that we can open the potential of the minds which will lead America at the start of a new century.
"The OSU Statewide initiative is based on many of the recommendations we have shared. Using new technologies and teaching methods, it represents a concerted effort to make higher education more available and affordable to a greater range of people in Oregon."
Data supporting the commission's major recommendations also is being released in a companion paper. Excerpts from that report show that the portion of high school graduates going directly to college increased from 47 to 62 percent in the last two decades. It also shows that many college students are being forced to incur higher personal debt because of the change in federal policy from grants to loans.
And it reveals that adults enrolling for the first time - or returning to school after an absence - comprise the fastest growing segment of the nation's growing student population.
"Returning to our Roots: Student Access" is the second in a series of reports planned by the commission to frame a vision for reforming public higher education. The first report in the series on the student experience was issued in April 1997.