Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Answering the call for economic recovery

Three weeks ago, I was involved in discussions with fellow presidents from more than 200 state colleges and universities trying to find solutions to this country’s decline in college-educated professionals in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. This shortage exists at the same time there is a growing need for a highly educated workforce to drive the economic recovery.

In a few days, Bloomsburg University will be doing its part to remedy this trend by ushering more than 650 well-rounded, highly educated graduates into these and other job markets. Many will enter the areas we presidents discussed at the annual meeting of the American Association of State College and Universities (AASCU).

One hundred sixty-five students will receive master’s degrees during graduate commencement Friday, Dec. 17, and 500 bachelor’s degrees will be conferred during two undergraduate commencement ceremonies Saturday, Dec. 18.

Graduation is a wonderful reminder of why we’re here: developing young adults into responsible citizens and preparing them to be leaders in their chosen field. With pride, I will shake hands with the December graduates -- 170 more than last December. It’s a confirmation we’re doing our job as a higher education institution … and doing it well.

This weekend’s ceremonies will also remind me of the many challenges we face as a public university. A key focus of the AASCU annual meeting was identifying methods to make sure we continue to achieve academic excellence while ensuring fiscal sustainability. This is becoming more challenging each year.

Pennsylvania and virtually every other state government is decreasing funding to public higher education, making it increasingly difficult for many citizens to obtain a college degree at a reasonable cost. John C. Cavanaugh, the chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, attended the AASCU meeting, as well as presidents of several fellow PASSHE universities. Being together and away from our campuses gave us some time for informal discussions of the financial and public policy issues we face as public universities in Pennsylvania.

It’s always a pleasure to reunite with colleagues from around the country who are serving as public university presidents, as I did at the AASCU meeting. One old friend who was a dean with me at Cal State Los Angeles in the mid-1990s is the president of SUNY Cobleskill. Another, who is president of Northeastern Oklahoma University, was part of the group I participated in that founded the AASCU American Democracy Project. We have all dedicated our careers to the fostering and enhancement of public higher education and continue to work together to educate more Americans at an affordable cost.

I’ll again see the fruits of our mission this weekend as I look across the stage to the many friends and family who will be immensely proud of their newly minted graduate. Some families will be greeting their first-ever college graduate. Those moments are a great beginning to the holidays!

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