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Leaders, Educators Convene to Focus on STEM Education

Oregon held its first statewide summit April 18, 2014, for educators, employers, and others with an interest in boosting outcomes in science, technology, engineering, and math education. Employers need graduates with STEM skills, and jobs in STEM disciplines pay a premium, yet fewer than 3 percent of Oregon high school graduates earn a STEM degree within five years of finishing high school.

More than 130 advocates, practitioners, and other stakeholders attended the Eugene event, hosted by Oregon Learns and the Oregon Business Council on behalf of the Oregon Education Investment Board and the Oregon Department of Education. The purpose of the summit was for leaders from different regions to learn about each other’s work, to network and build relationships, to identify barriers to STEM education, and to highlight STEM investment opportunities for the coming biennium. Input gathered at the summit will inform the STEM Investment Council, which will make investment recommendations to the OEIB in June.

About 80 of the participants in the summit were from 13 of Oregon’s 15 STEM hubs, regional collaboratives of employers, preschool through postsecondary educators, and nonprofits serving youth. They held a conference on hub issues the following day at Lane Community College.

“The Nation’s Eyes Are on Oregon” Merisotis Tells Higher Education Leadership Symposium

With “exciting but scary” changes under way in all of American higher education, people all over the country are closely watching what’s going on in Oregon.

That was the opening point underscored by Jamie Merisotis in his address to more than 200 of Oregon’s postsecondary leaders and stakeholders gathered in Portland on January 29, 2014, to consider how Oregon is redesigning the way it supports postsecondary students and institutions. Based on state policies adopted in 2013, state universities are achieving more autonomy; and state budgeting is becoming more focused on strategic investment and integrated funding for universities, community colleges, and need-based student aid.

“What you’re doing here really matters,” said Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation for Education. Lumina is focused on increasing postsecondary attainment nationwide to 60 percent of adults. 

The symposium, sponsored by Oregon Learns, also featured Pat Callan, President of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, Gov. John Kitzhaber, Chief Education Officer Nancy Golden, Tim Nesbitt, chair of the new Higher Education Coordinating Commission, Ben Cannon, HECC executive director , and numerous public and private college presidents and education officials.

“If we [as a nation] choose not to implement the kinds of changes now under way here in Oregon,” Merisotis said, “the results are predictable, and they are sobering. Simply put: The existing higher-ed system will continue to fall short of meeting the nation’s growing need for talent, and our citizens and society will suffer for it.”

Merisotis cited projections that 65 percent of all U.S. jobs will require a postsecondary credential by 2020, yet less than 40 percent of American adults today – and a similar share of Oregonians – hold at least an associate’s degree. That gap, he said, can’t be met without significant changes in higher education of the kind Oregon is putting in place to achieve its 40-40-20 goal. Oregon’s plan, he added, “is bold, sensible and well-thought-out, and it can very easily serve as a blueprint for the types of changes that need to come about in virtually every state.

Merisotis described Oregon’s redesign effort as one that puts students firmly at the center by building it around pathways based on learning. That redesign, he said, challenges everyone to be accountable for the success of all types of students in greater numbers than ever before, requires transparency and cooperative effort, and encourages innovation by rewarding actual results rather than process, effort, or good intentions.

Pat Callan underscored the dilemma that Oregon and the nation face. Our best educated cohort is now aging out of the workforce while a less educated cohort is coming up and there is a need for broader demographic postsecondary attainment. Other nations that understand the relationship of education and economic success are moving forward, he said, while attainment rates in the United States are flat or declining.

We face this change with a system designed in the middle of the last century,” he noted. “The clock is ticking and the consequences are unforgiving.”

Callan noted that finance isn’t often connected to discussions about system change and better outcomes, but that it should be. He added that finance “has to incent innovation.”

He cited several concerns that he has about efforts to redesign postsecondary education.

  • Public trust in higher education has eroded. Even though people continue to say it is important, they’re starting to question the value proposition. They need to see the economic and civic benefit as well as the individual benefit.
  • Postsecondary institutions are not sufficiently involved in the Common Core initiative.
  • New funding resources are important but the way we allocate and spend the money we have is even more important.
  • If we’re going to build a student centered system, we need to start with a realistic understanding of what students look like—what their lives are like, what resources they have, and how they cross institutional boundaries to piece together an education.