Dr. Edward Ray, president of Oregon State University, visited The Dalles and Hood River Thursday to talk about developing partnerships that will create more educational opportunities in rural areas of the state.
Toward that end, the university’s Division of Outreach and Engagement is recruiting for a full-time employee who will work out of Columbia Gorge Community College. The Oregon Open Campus Education Coordinator will be charged with strengthening the bonds between business, industries, government and educational institutions in the region.
Dan Spatz, development director for the college, will be working closely with the new OSU employee. He and his counterpart will not only be looking for ways to enhance a college-going culture in Wasco, Hood River, Klickitat, Sherman and Gilliam counties in Oregon, but finding ways to meet the educational needs of Skamania and Klickitat counties in Washingon.
“This will build on the effect we have been having; it magnifies it,” said Spatz.
The collaborative goal, said Ray, is to find more ways to strengthen and diversify the economy in rural communities. To do that, he said training opportunities need to be set up that will enable people to meet the labor needs of new and expanding companies.
He delivered that message Aug. 8 in the lecture hall at CGCC to an audience of local officials, school administrators and representatives from the Regional Center of Innovation, Gorge Technology Alliance and other groups.
Following that gathering, Ray went to Hood River for the 100th anniversary celebration of the Mid-Columbia Agricultural Research and Extension Center.
During his visit to The Dalles, Ray said OSU is the state’s largest public research university and already has a presence throughout Oregon to provide assistance with agriculture and forestry practices, as well as development for 150,000 children enrolled in 4-H programs. He said outreach by the university had generated 55-60 new jobs in the gorge and fed close to $4 million each year into the local economy. Throughout the state, he said OSU research exceeded $281 million in fiscal year 2012 and private sector financing reached nearly $35 million, a 42 percent increase in the past two years.
He said OSU expects a 4 percent growth in enrollment this year because of its outreach to so many Oregonians. He said the new satellite campus in Bend and online learning programs are examples of how the university is taking steps to meet the needs of students who don’t want to attend classes in Corvallis.
He said 3,400 students at OSU were now earning degrees online and an additional 11,000 are taking classes. The institute is rated fourth in the nation among research universities for its e-campus programs.
“I think the possibilities are going to get more exciting over time,” said Ray. “I do not think this is a passing fad, it’s here to stay.”
Tailoring education to industry needs is a new focus among state lawmakers that Ray strongly supports. He said during a time of tight budgets and increased competition in the global marketplace, the U.S. education system needs to be “seamless” from preschool through age 20 to produce a workforce that meets industry demand.
He said Gov. John Kitzhaber’s “40-20-20” plan will provide Oregon with a well-educated citizenry that enjoys a high quality of life by 2025. That plan was approved by the legislature in 2011 and has 40 percent of adults in the state earning at least a bachelor’s degree, 40 percent receiving an associate’s or postsecondary certificate and 20 percent obtaining at least a high school diploma or equivalent.
“I feel really good that we have an ambitious plan like 40-20-20 and Oregonians are at the heart of it,” he said.
At the time the governor’s guidelines were initiated, about 10 percent of working-age adults in the state had not completed high school, 42 percent had only a high school diploma, 18 percent had an associate’s or some type of credential and 30 percent had earned a bachelor’s.
The new focus on education unites schools at all grade levels, and expects them to coordinate curriculum to achieve the objectives laid out by Kitzhaber.
Ray said CGCC’s Gorge Scholar program is one way to promote success and is being expanded as an “educational incentive” to include the university level. Under the plan, 24 students from area schools who maintain at least a 3.5 grade point average or higher are rewarded with two years of free college tuition for up to 18 credits per term.
“You help people best by listening to what their needs are and then respond where you have capabilities,” said Ray.
Spatz said OSU’s new outreach efforts run parallel with the mission of the Regional Center of Innovation. That program seeks to protect the resources of the gorge to preserve the high quality of life for residents while creating more jobs, specifically in the clean technology sector.
The idea for the program sprang from a series of regional forums throughout the gorge last year, aimed at discovering roadblocks to economic development. Top issues are lack of housing, poor infrastructure and a need for a better-trained workforce.