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|Monday, January 11, 2010|
Two pieces of higher education news swam across the flotsam and jetsam of my desk in the past few days. Higher ed news always catches my attention because of its fundamental connection to business.
The Joint Boards of Education, which consists of the Boards of Education and Higher Education, and the Oregon Business Council met as the “Tri-Board” last week to discuss how K-12 and higher education can partner with the business community and, according to OUS Chancellor George Pernsteiner, “to determine what students should be learning, and how to evaluate that learning, not just course by course, but as the cumulative result of a college experience.”
The result was that the Tri-board approved standardized credits for the International Baccalaureate classes passed by high school students; approved statewide standards for the General Education course to make it easier to transfer; and approved clarification of the coursework included in the Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer degree.
Duncan Wyse, president of the Oregon Business Council and State Board of Education chair, said the meeting “was a great start in understanding how we can better align learning with the expectations of businesses and other employers, whose greatest assets are a highly skilled, nimble workforce.”
This is well-tended ground for the Oregon Business Council. It has exhaustively worked at education initiatives for years. In 2008, it called for sweeping system chance to the PreK-20 education system that included improved alignment among PreK-20 institutions, workforce organizations and employers. With last week’s decisions, it looks like those goals were at least partly met. The new policies make it easier for students to move between educational institutions and not lose credits, and also better prepare them for college.
That was the good news. The next day, the Chancellor’s office released a budget-cut plan for the universities, along with the tuition increase for summer 2010. It was a chilling and blunt memo.
Chancellor Pernsteiner said that as the university system looked at the requested budget cut plans in advance of the Jan. 26 vote on new taxes, "the OUS is long past the time in which we can say that the campuses can absorb cuts without obvious impacts."
The memo said that as Oregon faces the largest graduating high school class in its history, it also faces the possibility of having to restrict enrollment at some campuses in the coming fall if budget cuts are made to higher education in the February session. "We are not closing the doors on Oregonians, but we may not be able to serve all of the students who apply,” said Pernsteiner. Then the memo goes on to chart the hike in tuition that will face students this summer.
We might have to shut the doors of the state’s universities? We are infamously at the bottom of the rung in state investment in higher education and a study by the OSU extension service in December found that the average educational levels are declining in Oregon: 28.8 percent of younger Oregonians have college degrees compared to 33.4 percent of older Oregonians. This downward trend is opposite to the rising levels of education in most other states and countries.
The good news is that there is a committed group of people, many of them from the business community, working insanely hard on education issues. The bad news is, well, you know the bad news. Don’t be surprised if the doors do close on some students as we continue to starve the very schools and universities that are at the heart of nourishing every Oregonian.
Robin Doussard is Editor of Oregon Business.
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