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Chancellor Ward Calls for Change in Higher Education

April 7, 1997

In an unprecedented open letter to the chief executives of the nation’s state and land-grant colleges and universities, Chancellor David Ward and 24 other current and former public university presidents have laid out a bold framework for reform designed to put students first.

The entire text of "Returning to our Roots: The Student Experience" is available on-line.

The presidents’ letter, “Returning to our Roots: The Student Experience,” was released April 2 in Washington, D.C. It calls on public institutions to become “genuine learning communities” that are student-centered, support and inspire learners of all kinds, and sustain a healthy learning environment.

“We need to make sure that learning is the focus of the university experience and that students are the center of our learning communities,” said Ward. “That is the premise of our commission’s report, and it should be the goal of all public universities as we enter the 21st century.”

Chancellor Ward serves on the 25-member Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities, created by a $1.2 million grant given by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC).

“The Student Experience” is the first of a series of commission reports in the form of letters to public university presidents. The reports will frame a vision for reforming public higher education and outline action steps for change.

The actions recommended in “The Student Experience” include:

  • revitalizing partnerships with elementary and secondary schools
  • reinforcing the commitment to undergraduate instruction
  • strengthening the link between education and career
  • improving teaching and educational quality while keeping college affordable and accessible
  • defining educational objectives more clearly and improving assessment
  • creating many more opportunities for hands-on learning, including undergraduate research

The commission plans to follow up this first letter by launching a “national conversation” through dialogues around the country. It also is collecting models of “best practices” now taking place at public universities and will present them in print and on the Internet.

“This report resembles an architect’s rendering of what the public university of the future might look like,” said commission chair E. Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University. “It describes ways to create a genuine learning community that has an unflinching commitment to better meeting students’ needs.”

To underscore the need for change, the commission also released a working paper, “The Student Experience, Data Related to Change.” The data show:

  • In the last two decades, the diversity of students at public colleges has increased: more students are older, with 15 percent over 35 in 1993; the proportion of students of color increased from 14 percent in 1976 to 20 percent in 1993.
  • More students than ever before are working: 33 percent of college students were working in 1973; 46 percent were working in 1993.
  • Among the major changes in curriculum over the past 10 years cited in a survey of public research universities are greater emphasis on writing (53 percent), minimum general education requirements (52 percent) and expanded use of computers for classroom instruction (52 percent).

CONTACT: Jeff Iseminger, (608) 262-8287,