Solutions for our Future Forum addresses importance of Higher education
LUBBOCK – What issue could be so important that five university presidents would congregate for one united purpose? On Monday, Oct. 2, the issue was higher education in general, in particular the need for voters and community leaders to continue their support of higher education in order to ensure the country’s viability in the area of research, innovation and productive citizenship.
Hosted by presidents of five West Texas institutions, the Solutions for our Future Forum was held at Spirit Ranch in Lubbock, with each president addressing the solutions their schools were providing for society at large. Those participating were Dr. Paul Armes of Wayland Baptist University; Dr. Kelvin Sharp of South Plains College; Dr. L. Ken Jones of Lubbock Christian University; Dr. Bernhard Mittemeyer of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center; and Dr. Jon Whitmore of Texas Tech.
Before the presidents shared, the stage for the solutions was set by Eugene Anderson, associate director of national initiatives for the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C., and Ronnie Steck of GSD&M, the agency who conducted the research and created the campaign materials for Solutions.
“We must all continue to fight and advocate for higher education in this nation,” Anderson said. “We must tell others how education is a benefit to us all and is essential to the health and wellbeing of a community.”
Anderson said that the 3,800 colleges and universities in America are educating 17 million students, less than half of the high school graduates in the nation. Compared to other countries, the U.S. is 9th in terms of the percentages of high school students continuing to college.
“More support for higher education will lead to more innovation and more people who are educated to face the challenges in our societies,” Anderson added.
Steck presented the research behind the Solutions for our Future initiative, based on focus groups in three major U.S. markets, one-on-one interviews with many national and local opinion leaders and a national online survey, all intended to gauge the public’s opinion of the role and importance of higher education.
“The bottom line was that most people felt higher education was about personal benefit and personal responsibility instead of a broader importance,” Steck said. “We knew this campaign had to put education in terms of tangible benefits for the general public in order to get their interest.”
The goal, then, according to Steck, was to point out that higher education is important for what it provides for individuals not only for themselves but for how they will impact their communities and larger networks.
Each university president addressed briefly how their schools were providing solutions from higher education in specific areas. Armes addressed the areas of social mobility, personal income growth and increase in worker productivity, sharing two stories of students who found those very things through their experience at Wayland.
“Those of us speaking to you today believe that the more than 43,000 students enrolled at our collective institutions of higher learning are the people who will build our future as a community,” Armes said. “They will solve our problems, and, ultimately, they will change our world.”
Sharp spoke about workforce preparation and higher quality of personal health, mentioning the technical and vocational programs offered by SPC, specifically in the area of health care providers and first responders. Jones addressed the service to the community that schools provide, not only in terms of the institutions giving back as a whole but in their training of students to do service once they are out of school. Specifically, he mentioned LCU’s recent Habitat for Humanity house being built on their campus and other entities served by students and employees.
“If you look at higher education circles, they are all talking about service,” Jones said. “They’re realizing that great leadership all comes by the pathway of great servanthood.”
Mittemeyer addressed the issue of medical breakthroughs and personal health, mentioning the various health care research projects underway at the Health Sciences Center and the enormous need for trained family practice physicians, predicted to be in great demand by 2020. He added the research and technology in telemedicine has provided much medical assistance for rural and remote areas, especially across Texas.
Whitmore wrapped up the panel by addressing the areas of technological advances and economic growth, citing the workforce boost that universities provide to their communities and the research at Texas Tech that has impacted many lives. Specifically, he mentioned the research on cotton crop productivity, methods of protecting first responders from environmental hazards and nanotechnology research to develop machines to safely disarm bombs and protect military servicemen.
More information on the Solutions campaign can be found at the campaign web site at www.solutionsforourfuture.org.