Western Oregon University was included in a “top ten” list of universities that are doing things right in a book called “Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids” by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus. The book detailed many of WOU’s strengths and declared the university a positive example of a higher education institution. Other universities mentioned in the top ten include the University of Mississippi, University of Notre Dame, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Arizona State University.
Hacker and Dreifus’ premise is that America’s system of higher education is seriously damaged, but WOU is one of the few schools that succeeds in educating top students and has championed the system. The cost of education at both public and private colleges has more than doubled—in real dollars—compared to a generation ago. As a result, it is not uncommon for students to graduate college saddled with an enormous debt load before they land their first jobs. Hacker and Dreifus deliver a call to arms, tracing how a system has simultaneously blown up and broken down, and discuss their potentially controversial proposals for repairing it. They also share good news about where students can still receive a first-class education at a reasonable price, such as WOU.
The authors argue that regional colleges provide a very good liberal arts education for an affordable cost. As they traveled the country and visited colleges, talking with professors and students, they found students of regional schools to be as bright and academically committed as any, and the professors are among the most dedicated.
Kent Neely, Ph.D., Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at
Western Oregon University, just returned from the Association of American State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) summer meeting. The national conference focused on the imperative for higher education to change and better serve students. He noted, “WOU has already initiated the sorts of changes that were discussed at the AASCU meeting - being innovative in recruiting, retaining and graduating under-served students, expanding both undergraduate and graduate programs on campus and offered electronically, remaining sensitive to the constantly changing economic environment and using electronically gathered data to use resources more efficiently.” Neely credited the WOU faculty for being an indispensable part of the equation offering outstanding teaching while remaining active scholars and serving their professional communities.
While visting WOU, Hacker and Dreifus talked with faculty and students. They said the faculty spoke to the talents and dreams of their students, and about how much they enjoyed teaching. The students expressed gratitude for the attention they received in classes, a sentiment the authors said they rarely encountered while researching for this book.
The authors wrote of WOU: “We discovered an educational jewel: a school without any frills or pretense, that did its job with utter seriousness and dedication. At Western Oregon, the name of the game is making a good education available to those who never could access it before. Western Oregon’s administrators view themselves as facilitators of social mobility, costs are kept at a minimum. At Western Oregon…all energy is focused on one thing: educating the undergraduates.”
While talking with students, the authors discovered that much of the WOU student population is largely rural or working class, often the first in their families to attend college, and typically must work while pursuing their degrees.
The authors visited the WOU campus during the Martin Luther King Jr.’s celebration and attended a dinner as part of the week’s events. In the book, they wrote of a young Mexican-American student who won the essay contest. “As a single mother, she had already lived many hardships. Dr. King had preached the theology of hope, of having a chance for a better future, ‘the content of their character…’ and she hoped to prove him right. In that moment, we saw something special: Western Oregon [University] and the opportunity it offered to many of society’s neglected was the actual fulfillment of all that Martin Luther King Jr. had dreamed.”