Thursday, April 17th, 2014
By Amy Kronenberger
WSU president: Higher education in U.S. held back by outdated ideas
  CELINA - Higher education in Ohio and the U.S. is falling behind the rest of the world, according to Wright State University's president.
President David Hopkins, speaking at the annual report to the community in New Bremen on Wednesday, said he's concerned about the direction of higher education in Ohio and the U.S.
"Unlike the 20th century, we have to think differently and we must produce talented, innovative thinkers, critical thinkers of the 21st century," he said. "We must be aggressive in our research to develop things that will grow products and grow jobs."
Hopkins added the Lake Campus in Celina "has been magnificent" in meeting the needs of the area.
Lake Campus Dean Bonnie Mathies said the Lake Campus is always evolving and growing and now offers eight bachelor degree programs.
The newest program - a bachelor's degree in business - will start in the fall semester.
"We are very excited about that because that is the one request we've had since we started there," she said. "We already have 125 students who are either business-intending or already admitted into the business college. ... We intend to grow that program, and I expect that to be as explosive as we were in our mechanical engineering program."
The third year of the engineering program is about to end at Lake Campus with seven graduates, Mathies said. All seven were able to graduate a year early by taking extra classes in Dayton. Six of the students have jobs waiting for them after graduation. The seventh student has been accepted into a fellowship program and is seeking his master's degree and Ph.D. in engineering.
The program has 120 students with another 30 accepted for fall semester, she added.
Construction of the second housing unit at the Lake Campus is almost completed and will be ready for students for the fall semester. The two housing units will allow 64 students to live on campus.
"The things happening at Lake Campus, the things going on, are truly amazing," Hopkins said.
Wright State University is focused on educating students according to what area businesses need, Hopkins said. In the 20th century, the number of college graduates was proportionate to the number of jobs that required higher education. He noted 10 percent of high school students went on to college in the 1930s and about 25 percent sought higher education in 1970.
"With the workforce we didn't need any more than that because most of the jobs we needed to fill didn't require more than that," he said. "Today, 65 percent of the jobs of the future require a college education. Yet we're seeing fewer people going to college."
Hopkins said the U.S. has fallen from first in the world to seventh in percentage of college attendees, 12th in college degrees and 23rd in social mobility.
"These are brutal facts that we don't talk about," he said. "We don't talk about these because we don't like to understand that we're not number one anymore."
He added that the U.S. is still first in research but the lead has greatly narrowed.
"Our country since the 1980s not only disinvested in higher education, for 30 years we've also seen a disinvestment in research dollars," he said. "So why are we where we are in this country? Because we have subtly, without really thinking about it, sat back on our laurels, sat back and talked about how great we were compared to everybody else, and we've slowly been eroding our lead.
"I tell you this not to make you mad. I tell you this because we have to think differently," he added.
Hopkins said the model colleges use now serves students who go directly into college after high school, stay at the same school until graduation and have parents pay for most of the tuition. It also focuses on the majority of the population, not minorities.
"Today 75 percent of students don't fit that model. Yet every metric we use at the federal and state level to judge how well we're doing in higher education is designed for metrics that measure that 25 percent," he said.
"Who are our students today? They are part-time students, they can't afford to go full time; they're transfer students, students who started at a community college and transferred to a four-year; ... They are military veterans who served our country and came back and now want to go to school; they are 25 and older adults who found out that there's not much they can do in the workforce unless they go back and get better training and better preparation."
Colleges also need to stop competing for the top students who score the highest on their ACT tests. Hopkins said schools need to be more accepting of the 60 percent of students who achieve 18-24 on their ACTs. In 2012, Ohio had 120,000 high school graduates, and 92,000 of those graduates took the ACT test. Of the 92,000, 12,000 scored a 27 or higher. So all the schools are competing for those 12,000 students, he said.
"We're falling behind the rest of the world because we're not producing enough college graduates, and we're all stuck on chasing this group over here," he said. "Well, we're going to take the average kids, we're going to take the 60 percent of those kids in the middle of that bell curve and be proud of taking them in and adding value to their life."
Hopkins noted the higher education model in the U.S. has conditioned society to believe the more selective a college is, the better it must be. However, the truly successful colleges take the students who come from a poor family background, who didn't get the best grades, and help them succeed in spite of their past.
He said the lowest income families in the country have an 8 percent chance of getting a college education, and the highest income families have an 88 percent chance. The majority of Americans - the lower to middle income families - have a 17 percent chance.
"This is not America," he said. "In the America I knew, if you worked hard, played by the rules and put your nose to the grind, you could have a way to improve the quality of your life."
He said most school presidents only brag about their highest achieving students, but he chooses to be different.
"We have that and I can brag about them, but it's more relevant for me to brag about the students who come from nothing, who rise out of the ashes of a really tough family life, rise out of the ashes of society where maybe no one expected them to do anything, and they come out here and they shine."
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