From the window of my new office in Old Main I can see students coming and going from Wilson Library, traversing those well-worn steps that every graduate of Western knows. I feel like I’m right in step with them.
Since Aug. 1, my first official day as Western’s 14th president, I have been enrolled in my own course of study, learning all I can about Western from students, faculty, staff and alumni. I’ve also met with leaders, legislators and advocates who deeply appreciate the impact that Western and our graduates have in their communities. Throughout, I have been struck by the shared, passionate commitment to advancing Western into the future.
A vision of that future emerges with a key question: What story would others tell about Western at our 150th anniversary celebration? Where does our story go from here?
While I wouldn’t presume to define Western’s future, there are some national realities that I believe we must confront:
- Nationally, barely half of students enrolled in four-year colleges graduate within six years.
- Over the last 40 years, the percentage of students from families in the top income quartile who have a four-year degree has doubled, from 40 percent to 78 percent. By contrast, the rate for students from the bottom income quartile has not budged from 9 percent.
- An increasing percentage of university students nationwide come from the lower-income quartiles, which are also more racially and ethnically diverse.
- The national average student loan debt for graduates of the class of 2015 was about $35,000, with total U.S. student loan debt being $1.3 trillion—and rising.
The most important challenge facing universities is clear: Advance inclusive excellence by increasing the number of graduates, supporting student success, and closing the achievement gap for students from diverse, first-generation and underrepresented socioeconomic backgrounds.
Our vision of Western’s future depends on the shared commitment of outstanding faculty and staff on campus and the support of our alumni off-campus. Together, we must articulate a compelling case for others to invest in our future. As a well-known African proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
I am extraordinarily honored to serve as Western’s 14th President, and to take this journey with you.