PORTLAND, Ore. – Oregon State University President Edward J. Ray today announced a new “Student Success Initiative” in his annual State of the University address in Portland, calling on the university within four years to make an OSU degree an affordable reality for every qualified Oregonian.
Ray also pledged that by 2020 OSU must better serve students of diverse backgrounds and ensure that all students attending Oregon State achieve success “regardless of their economic status, color of their skin or family background.”
In his presentation, made at the Oregon Convention Center to more than 700 community, business, educational and state leaders, Ray asked attendees, OSU alumni, donors and political leaders to join in this initiative to “help achieve by 2020 this new horizon of inclusive student success and excellence.”
Ray called upon Oregon State by 2020 to raise its first-year retention rate for all students from 83.8 percent to 90 percent, and its six-year graduation rate from 63.1 percent to 70 percent for all students.
Ray said the university must tackle the “near impossible” financial burdens and levels of debt that students and their families now face. The average Oregon resident undergraduate has an unmet annual need at OSU of $7,256, creating a legacy of debt and a serious obstacle to higher education.
Nationally, the pace of progress on this issue has been unacceptably slow and must no longer be tolerated, Ray said.
“Forty years ago, the likelihood of getting a college degree if your family was in the lowest quartile of the income distribution in America was 6 percent,” Ray said. “Today that figure is 9 percent.
“This is shameful. Higher education in America is deepening the divide in our nation between the haves and have nots, and this chasm is tearing at the fabric of society and undermining our democracy.”
In his address, Ray said that 2015 had been another year of notable achievements for Oregon State. Among these were:
- Enrollment exceeded 30,000 students for the second year in a row, and 6,300 degrees were presented to OSU’s largest-ever graduating class;
- The first freshman class started at OSU-Cascades in Bend, and construction began on Oregon’s first completely new college campus in the past half century;
- OSU’s Ecampus online educational program continued to grow and was ranked seventh nationally by U.S. News and World Report, and fourth in the nation for veterans;
- OSU faculty conducted $309 million in research, nearly double the combined total of the state’s six other public universities;
- Donor gifts to the university continued with a total of $130.8 million, the OSU Foundation’s best fund-raising year ever, and built on the success of the hugely successful Campaign for OSU that raised $1.14 billion; and
- Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and state legislators helped provide the first increase in state funding to higher education in nearly a decade.
During the past year, Ray said OSU launched the nation’s first graduate degree program in “environmental humanities,” to prepare students for careers in environmental policy, social justice and the arts. The university helped lead work to prepare the state for a massive subduction zone earthquake that lurks in its future. Additionally, significant biomedical advances were announced on Lou Gehrig’s disease, cancer and other health problems.
Oregon State’s Marine Studies Initiative also continues to move forward to help address some of the world’s most pressing issues such as climate change, ocean acidification, rising sea levels and degraded marine habitat. Ray indicated that over the next decade, the statewide cumulative impact of this initiative should exceed $280 million, helping to produce hundreds of needed graduates in these fields while boosting the economy of struggling coastal communities.
The College of Forestry at OSU is close to launching a new $60-70 million forest science complex that will accelerate the use of sophisticated new wood products in high-rise buildings.
Ray repeatedly praised the accomplishments and caliber of OSU students, many of whom attended the event. Last fall, more than 41 percent of entering freshmen had high school grade point averages of 3.75 or greater. By 2020, Ray said, OSU should become the school of choice for Oregon’s high-achieving and most accomplished students.
Ray also insisted that as part of each student’s future success, they have at least one “experiential” learning opportunity such as an internship, study abroad program, participation in original research or other club and leadership activities.
“Let me assure you that while we know that we are not done, we can be confident that working together, the best is yet to come,” Ray said in closing.