Welcome to George Mason University

Highlights from Opening Convocation

Posted: August 27, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Kudos to Professor Wendi Manuel-Scott for an inspiring, energizing, thought-provoking and profound lecture during New Student Convocation. If you haven’t heard it already, these may well be the best 14 minutes you will spend today:

My remarks once again focused on the university’s namesake, George Mason—who he was, why he matters and his influence on the university today. You can read last year’s version here.

Then I offered my Top 10 recommendations for new students:

  • Keep an open mind. Learning happens not when we prove to others that we’re right but when we realize that we may not be.
  • Pick the brains of our outstanding faculty. Don’t assume they are too busy to care about you. You are their first priority.
  • Study abroad if you can.
  • Don’t wait until your senior year to start looking for a job. Find ways to engage with employers and organizations beginning today.
  • Join at least two initiatives on campus. There are 300 clubs and organizations from which to choose. Pick at least one you may not think you’re interested in.
  • Every once in a while, take the Metro to Washington, D.C., — recently crowned as America’s coolest city, in case you haven’t heard.
  • Take care of your body. Don’t overeat. Don’t overdrink. Don’t do drugs (it’s really stupid). Get plenty of exercise.
  • Do not abuse anyone or tolerate anyone who does. Sexual assault on college campuses happens to perhaps one in five women. About 90 percent of those attacks involve acquaintances, not strangers. Alcohol plays a part in more than half of the incidents. And perpetrators are almost always repeat offenders. If you are aware of an abuse and don’t report it, you just became part of the problem. We should all be part of the solution.
  • Study a lot.
  • Have fun!
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    A year in (brief) review

    Posted: July 1, 2014 at 6:18 am

    It’s been a productive year at George Mason University on many counts.

    This academic year we welcomed the largest freshman class in our history, as well as the largest transfer class. In fall 2013, 3,011 first-time freshmen arrived on campus, with 2,390 being from the Commonwealth and 621 coming from out of state. The 2,659 degree-seeking, undergraduate transfer students was almost as large a group as the freshman cohort; and when spring 2014 transfers are included, the number of new transfers reached 3,931.

    And we’re not just becoming larger; we’re also becoming more effective. Our 6-year graduation rate has steadily increased from 64 percent in 2009 to about 67 percent in 2013 (and at 72 percent and 71 percent, respectively, women and Hispanics are the first two groups to have surpassed the 70 percent mark). Add to that high employment outcomes of our graduates, as reported by SCHEV, and low student loan default rates, as reported by the Federal Government, and we can safely and proudly claim that we are serving more students and serving them better.

    These numbers in fact put us firmly on track to achieve our goal of 100,000 graduates over the next 10 years, a strategic objective that ranks among our most ambitious. Here’s our point of departure.  In 2012-13, we awarded 8,410 degrees and 549 certificates. Of those degrees, 59 percent (4,920) were undergraduate, and one-third (2,756) were in the humanities and social sciences, with an additional 40 percent (3,331) pretty evenly distributed among education, business and engineering. Our graduates also earned 261 law degrees, 249 PhDs, and 2,980 Masters. No other four-year institution in the Commonwealth awarded more degrees. We anticipate similar numbers this year, and gradual overall increases thereafter.

    Here are several other highlights (a more exhaustive list and data will be available this Fall as part of my president’s report–here’s a link to last year’s):

    • We produced a university-wide strategic plan, and developed unit-specific plans for each of the colleges under that framework. We created a unified brand profile that is effective July 1. A campus master plan and a campaign plan are under way.
    • We recruited a new provost, David Wu, who begins July 1. David completes a new leadership team with robust and diverse backgrounds.
    • We established a partnership with INTO that will greatly increase our international student population.
    • We agreed to merge the School of Public Policy and the Department of Public and International Affairs into a new School of Policy, Government and International Affairs that will stand out in breadth, depth and quality.
    • The Mason-Korea campus in Incheon welcomed its first class in March. Initial enrollment totaled 40 students, including six undergraduates from Fairfax.
    • We raised more than $51 million, which makes fiscal year 2014, once again, a record fund-raising year.
    • We transformed the Mason Inn into the Mason Global Center, that will add much needed educational and residential space while ending years of operating losses.
    • We consolidated and moved administrative offices, including the provost and president’s offices, into Alan and Sally Merten Hall (formerly, University Hall), a move that created an additional 25,000 square feet of renovated academic space, without requiring new construction.
    • We launched five new fully online programs this year: MEd, Education Leadership;MS, Applied Information Technology; MS, Biodefense; Graduate Certificate in Emergency Management and Homeland Security; and, Graduate Certificate in Geospatial Intelligence. All will offer their first set of online cohorts this fall.  We also are launching a fully online asynchronous MS program in Systems Engineering.
    • We opened the Simulation and Computational Gaming Institute in March, and last month we announced the creation of the Sustainable Earth Institute.
    • We helped incubate a new Education Design Lab (an initiative with former member of the Board of Visitors and benefactor Kathleen DeLaski), dedicated to designing new solutions in higher education, and launched two pilot projects—one on apprenticeships and one on 21st century skills.
    • We joined the Atlantic 10 conference and won four conference championships on our inaugural season—men’s soccer, baseball and women’s indoor and outdoor track and field. Our results in men’s basketball were disappointing, but the national television exposure and as the six bids to the NCAA tournament reaffirmed the value of our decision. Tom O’Connor retired, and we hired Brad Edwards as our new Athletic Director.

    Much, much more was accomplished throughout the university.  And much more is under way.  Thank you to each and every member of the Mason community–students and families, faculty and staff, alumni, volunteers, board members, friends, elected officials, donors and partners–for all you do to move this university forward.  Looking forward to an equally productive 2014-15!

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    Top workplace 2014

    Posted: June 22, 2014 at 7:00 am

    I’ve always felt that George Mason University is not just a great place to go to school, but also a great place to go to work. I’m delighted that the word is spreadinh!

    The Washington Post has selected George Mason as a Top Workplace in the National Capital Region (and the only university in the top 20!). This recognition belongs to every faculty and staff member of our community because it is each of them who every day makes our university a special place for every one else to work, grow and have an impact.

    Why is Mason a great place to work? Last year we spent time diving into our culture, asking what makes this university successful.  The result was a set of seven beliefs or values.  I am pretty sure these seven values are also the big reason why we are considered a great place to work:

    Our Students Come First
    We take great pride in serving our students and helping them grow as individuals, scholars and professionals. A shared sense of purpose is a hallmark of any great organization, and we definitely have it.

    Diversity Is Our Strength
    We include and embrace a multitude of people and ideas in everything we do, not because of a sense of moral obligation, but because of a genuine belief that diversity makes us better at what we do. Because we embrace diversity, everyone, no matter their background, can make of Mason their successful professional home.

    Innovation Is Our Tradition
    We are a young university that prides itself of not following someone else’s path, but blazing its own.  Whether by creating new programs and learning experiences for our students or by engaging in new research journeys with great impact, we strive to find new and better ways to deliver on our mission and know very well that great ideas can come from everyone.

    We Honor Freedom of Thought and Expression
    Innovative learning and scholarship requires thinkers and leaders who are free to pursue their ideas and conduct research that makes our university and our world a better place. That’s why we zealously protect the freedom of all members of our community to seek truth and express their views.

    We are Careful Stewards
    The university where we work is an invaluable asset that has been built by many to serve generations to come. We use precious resources from tax payers, families, and a myriad of organizations to do what we do. We owe it to everyone to use these resources responsibly and sustainably. 

    We Act with Integrity
    We hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards as educators, scholars, students and professionals.

    We Thrive Together
    At Mason we try to nurture a positive and collaborative environment that contributes to the well-being and success of every member. We try to offer programs that support our employees: from tuition waivers, to flexible work options, professional and leadership development, executive coaching, or volunteer service leave.  But most importantly, we recognize that our success is shared and it is our responsibility to help one another succeed.

    Big thanks to the Washington Post for this recognition.  And thanks to each one of my colleagues for their commitment to our university.  Our rewarding and enriching environment is created and sustained by each of you.  Congratulations on a job well done!

     

     

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    Bienvenido Mr. Fulbright, and congratulations!

    Posted: June 15, 2014 at 8:47 am

    The Fulbright Program aims to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship.

    —Senator J. William Fulbright

    The Prince of Asturias Foundation announced this week that the Fulbright Scholarship will receive this year’s Príncipe de Asturias award for international cooperation.  This is the highest recognition bestowed by Spain to an organization or person who has made an exceptional contribution to international cooperation and understanding.  In past years it has gone to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Red Cross and Nelson Mandela.

    As a Fulbright alum and fan, I share the excitement of the entire Fulbright family on this much deserved recognition and I extend my congratulations to all Fulbright scholars, staff at IIE and CIES (disclosure: I serve on its board), the U.S. Department of State, all bilateral commissions and contributing governments and foundations around the world.

    The Fulbright Scholarship is one of those government programs that works.  With a current investment of less than $250M a year by the U.S. government plus $80M from overseas partners, the Fulbright program has allowed more than 100,000 American students and faculty to study, conduct research or teach overseas.  And it has allowed more than 200,000 foreign students and faculty to do the same in the U.S..  In doing so, it has helped build 300,000 bridges of understanding between the U.S. and 150 other nations.  It’s hard to imagine a more effective way to build goodwill with relatively little investment.

    The classic Berlanga movie “Bienvenido Mr. Marshall“, one of my favorite of all times, offers an insightful and very funny take on the stereotypes Americans and Spaniards had of one another circa 1950. It is also a critical tale of American economic development investments (or lack thereof) in impoverished, post-war Spain.  The villagers in imaginary Villar del Río get ready to welcome the Americans and their gifts only to see Mr. Marshall drive by without stopping. I suppose my views of America growing up must have been shaped by movies of that sort in addition to the dubbed versions of John Wayne, Marlon Brando, Clark Gable and Kirk Douglas.

    Whatever my stereotypes of Americans were, they didn’t help me much when in the Summer of 1991 I boarded a TWA plane headed to the U.S., compliments of a Fulbright Scholarship.  My life would never be the same.

    Thanks to my Fulbright I discovered a fascinating and diverse new country, which I learned to love and make my own.  I also discovered a gem of American society, the American research university, which shaped my views of what higher education can do to change the world for the better.  Georgia Tech, my home for 4 years, allowed me to explore academic fields outside my own and gave me two graduate degrees and a wife–I couldn’t ask for more!

    I returned to Spain in 1995 with a much richer appreciation of the U.S. and full of ideas, and American-style ingenuity, as to how Spanish higher education could be improved. I worked in business and at three academic institutions there, then returned to the U.S. where I have worked at two others.  I’ve become a U.S. ambassador (lower case, no Senate confirmation) when I’m in Spain and a Spanish ambassador in the U.S..  I’ve also learned to establish connections between peoples and organizations in other parts of the world.  I’ve become so fascinated by the power of reaching across national boundaries, that I’ve even written a book about it.

    In Berlanga’s movie, Mr. Marshall never shows up in the end.  The Villar del Río villagers are left disappointed and as ignorant of the americanos as always.  Mr. Fulbright did show up and made a big difference, in my life, 300,000 others and the millions that together we have managed to reach.

    Congratulations Fulbrighters!  Let’s work to make sure the Fulbright program grows stronger.  For now, it would be useful and timely if you joined the #SaveFulbright movement.

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    A tale of two systems

    Posted: June 6, 2014 at 5:35 am

    The rector of Spain’s Universidad Pontificia de Comillas, a selective Jesuit university with some of the country’s most reputed programs in business, law and industrial engineering, invited me this week to speak to his administration about the differences and similarities between the American and Spanish systems of higher ed, given that I have studied, taught and held leadership positions in both systems.  One of the most striking differences that I have seen and that centered a big part of our discussion is funding.

    According to the OECD, Spain spends $13,400 per university student, which is about the OECD average.  In comparison, the U.S. spends a whopping $25,600, the world’s highest, and almost twice as much as the average rich country.  For that money, the U.S. gets about half of the top universities in the world–more than anyone else–even though, when normalized by population, the U.S. comes in 9th, with countries like Switzerland, Denmark or Sweden doing better as I have explained here before.

    Where does the money come from in each case?  While in Spain only 22% of the money comes from private sources (mostly families), private funding accounts for 64% of spending in the U.S.. As it turns out, in terms of public funding, Spain makes a bigger investment per student ($10,400) than the U.S. does ($9,200).

    While discussions in the U.S. tend to be about whether universities overspend and overcharge, discussions in Spain tend to be about whether universities underspend–yet there’s a general reticence to considering higher private/family funding.  I would argue that the U.S. has gone too far in shifting the cost of higher ed from public sources to families–thus current debates around affordability and ballooning student debt.  But I would also argue that Spanish universities desperately need additional funding, even if it means to shift some of the burden to families.

    Spain’s focus on public funding and very low tuition has delivered on access.  According to the OECD, 60% of men and 70% of women 25-34 have a college education, while the numbers are 38% and 30% among people 55-64.  In only one generation, college has gone from a privilege of the few, to an opportunity for all, an outcome that deserves to be recognized and celebrated.  Yet this funding and governance system that emphasizes uniformity and access has failed to produce research universities that compete with the world’s best and which are essential to fuel the country’s innovation capacity.  Spain needs to accept a broader diversity of missions and roles among its universities, recognize that not every university can nor should try to be all things to all people, allow more flexibility in tuition policy and, as every one seems to acknowledge but no one dares to push, it needs to radically change its system of governance.

     

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    Sustainability and resilience at George Mason University

    Posted: May 19, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    Scientists have been telling us for years that atmospheric CO2 and other gases derived in part from combustion of fossil fuels and other industrial processes were reaching concentrations unseen in human history. These cumulative emissions are believed to be driving a gradual increase of average land, ocean and atmosphere temperatures, a disturbance of statistical weather patterns, a disruption of ecosystems and reduction of biodiversity, an accelerating melting of polar icecaps, and an increase in sea levels.

    Some of these changes are mutually reinforcing, often in complex, non-linear ways, which makes forecasting a particularly difficult endeavor.  Predictions of how these trends will affect us are imprecise–and at times contradictory–but include the possibility of  changes in the availability of fresh water, the redrawing of densely populated coastlines, the increase in frequency and intensity of natural disasters and the geographic expansion of certain infectious diseases.

    Yet the emission of greenhouse gases that is threatening our current standard of living is the direct consequence of the technological advances that have allowed many of us to enjoy unprecedented levels of prosperity.  It shouldn’t surprise us that scientists’ admonitions have been received in some cases with indifference, lukewarm skepticism, denial or, even outright hostility.  The threats posed by climate change appear uncertain, broadly shared and long-term, while the costs of curbing emissions are painfully real, immediate and personal. And, while rich countries point the finger at the rapidly growing emissions in the less developed countries, the question that looms in the less developed world is why those who contributed the least to the problem should bear the cost of dealing with it.

    We are thus trapped in a tragedy of the commons of global proportions, where the immediate self-interest of each individual, group or nation is at odds with the collective, long-term interest of all.  National political processes and international governance mechanisms have repeatedly failed not for a lack of rationality but for an excess of it.  While emissions have gone down slowly in a few countries, a host of cultural, historical and political differences that cut across inter- and intra-national boundaries make it safe to bet against sufficient action happening to stabilize the climate system any time soon. Meanwhile nature maintains its course and keeps changing the parameters of the problem.

    Climate change is the poster child of what has been referred to as “wicked problems”. Problems are wicked when they are hard to define and isolate, when their underlying causes and effects are complex and evolving, when different stakeholders are affected by them differently, when there’s no consensus as to what would constitute a solution, and when the information and resources needed to reach a solution are held by different individual and groups who may have difficulty communicating and collaborating.

    As a university that has declared its commitment to producing research of consequence and contribute to find solutions to some of the most pressing (read wicked) problems of our time, we have our work cut out for us.  On the positive side, our resources in the disciplines that are relevant to tacking climate change are nothing but impressive. Here’s a sample:

    • Prof. Jagadish Shukla, a lead author in the IPCC that was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, and his colleagues at the Center for Oceanic-Land-Atmosphere Studies have developed unique tools to understand short and long-term climate fluctuations.
    • Prof. Thomas Lovejoy, the award-winning conservation biologist who coined the term biological diversity in 1980, has spent most of his scientific career documenting biological decay due to ecosystem fragmentation, deforestation and climate change.
    • Philosopher Andrew Light, currently advising the U.S. Secretary of State on international climate change negotiations,  has written extensively on the moral implications of policy and market-based solutions to climate change.
    • Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication and its director Prof. Ed Maibach produce with Yale University some of the best data we have about Americans’ attitudes towards climate change.  The Center’s most recent addition, former conservative Congressman Bob Inglis, is leading a campaign promoting free-enterprise solutions to climate change.
    • Arison Prof. Gregory Unruh, who created the concept of carbon lock-in, has worked for years in trying to change the mindsets and skill sets of business leaders to try to drive environmentally-friendly business practices.

    The list of academics, just at Mason, who are experts in one aspect or another of climate change is much longer.  Yet for all the impressive talent that we have, we suffer from some of the same limitations to address this most wicked problem: we are tackling this from mostly disconnected, narrow disciplinary lenses.  Each of the individuals listed above (and many of the ones I skipped) know painfully well how hard it is to reach across ideological, cultural and disciplinary divides to drive action.  They have the scars to show for trying.  But they have successes under their belt too.

    Our challenge is now is to try to bring this impressive talent together in a way that can help define and address some of the most pressing challenges of climate change.  We need to figure out how to best train new creative problem solvers who can experiment with new approaches.  We need to come up with transdisciplinary approaches to understanding the geophysical, biological, economic and social implications of climate change.  We need to find new ways for our science to serve society, helping governments, businesses and the civil sector make informed decisions about matters of utmost importance.

    And we need to find the right external partners who can expand our capabilities.

    This is exactly the goal of our new interdisciplinary institute: The Institute for a Sustainable Earth.

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    David Rubenstein’s Commencement Address

    Posted: May 17, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    David M. Rubenstein, Patriot Center, May 17, 2014.

    Congratulations to all of you who will shortly receive a degree as a result of your hard work, dedication, and intellectual achievement over many years. And even greater congratulations to the parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters and friends who may have worked even harder to bring this day to fruition–and who may have thought that this day would never come.

    To the new graduates, in addition to your degrees, you will inevitably find that for the rest of your life you will be asked at least three questions by those you meet for the first time–what is your name, where are you from, where did you go to school. You will be asked the third question because, rightly or wrongly, people judge other people to some extent by where they went to school. And that is a good thing for you because the school from which you have just earned a degree has, in a relatively short time for universities, earned an excellent reputation for providing a world-class education and for producing intelligent, motivated and focused graduates, very eager and fully ready to make their mark in the world.

    Your President, the University’s Faculty and Administrators and the University’s Board of Visitors deserve enormous credit for ensuring that your degree has the value it today enjoys. And for these reasons, you should always answer the question of where you went to school by saying the words George Mason University with enthusiasm and with pride.  And you should do so not only because you received an excellent education, but also because the university from which you graduated is named after one the greatest of Americans, George Mason, a man who is as much responsible for the country we have today as any of the other Founding Fathers.

    Let me explain what I mean for those who may not know as much about George Mason as you might know about his somewhat better known good friends George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. No doubt all three of those men would say they were in George Mason’s debt, for all he did to help and influence them, rather than the other way around.  Why would they have said that?

    George Mason drafted the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the finest expression at the time of the rights that colonial citizens should expect from their governments. While Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, there is no doubt that many of his memorable – indeed, now immortal – words were taken very freely from George Mason’s earlier work.  For instance, it was George Mason who wrote in that Declaration “that all men are equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights including the enjoyment of life, liberty…and “pursuing happiness and safety”.

    Continue Reading David Rubenstein’s Commencement Address

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    Celebrating Provost Peter Stearns’ legacy

    Posted: May 13, 2014 at 9:04 am

    My contribution to the celebration of Provost Peter Stearns’ legacy, May 12, 2014

    I don’t think my kids have ever been as impressed by any of my jobs as they were when they learned that I worked with Peter Stearns, the very same Peter Stearns who wrote their AP World Civ textbook. Impressed by the almost 5 pounds of packed global history in the book, Peter the Provost, as he is now known at home, has become synonymous with endless wisdom (and endless study nights) at home!

    Not all of his books are as heavy, but a simple calculation indicates that a full collection of his 125 books would weigh almost 500 pounds.  Rose Pascarell once famously said, every time President Cabrera tweets, Provost Stearns writes a book.  That humbling statistic sounds about right!

    Interestingly, as much as Peter loves the written word, he likes to keep verbal interactions to the bare minimum.  His public speeches are succinct and to the point (normally three points).  And his work meetings are famously short.  One Korean official recently told me that he stayed up all night preparing for a 15 minute meeting with the Provost so he wouldn’t waste any time delivering his message.  The meeting by the way, must have gone well because that was the origin of our new Songdo campus, one of Peter’s many legacies at Mason.

    With that reputation of being a “five minute meeting man”, you will understand my concern as I was still wrapping things up in Arizona in the Spring of 2012 when Peter announced he would come see me for a day-long meeting.  By the time we parted, I calculated we had spent 5 hours together.  One of the biggest honors in my professional life is that I managed to have the longest meeting with Peter any human being has ever had!

    Actually, and more seriously, one of the biggest honors in my career is that I got to work side by side with one of the best provosts in American higher education for two years.

    Continue Reading Celebrating Provost Peter Stearns’ legacy

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    Did we deliver?

    Posted: May 12, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    As 7,695 students prepare to receive their Mason degrees this week, it’s timely to ask: did we deliver on our promise to them? Was their investment in time and money worthwhile?

    Our promise to students is captured in our definition of the Mason Graduate as an engaged citizen and well-rounded scholar who is prepared to act. It is not yet clear how we will measure the former, but learning outcome assessments indicate that we are doing a good job in scholarship. Employment data show that we are doing quite well in producing graduates who are ready to work and create value.

    According to data from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, recent Mason graduates with a bachelor’s degree earn on average $41,153 a year, which places them at the top among Virginia universities. Many of our 2014 graduates already have secured jobs, and we expect that more than 80 percent of our graduating class will be employed within six months. Clearly our location in northern Virginia, right outside the Nation’s capital, contributes to these numbers. Our focus on experiential and integrative learning, our facilitation of internships, and our attention to the needs of employers are also part of the success.

    Our vision states that “we will be a valuable investment for our students” and our strategic plan sets “return on investment” as one of our top goals. Whatever we do with regard to tuition policy, and whatever the evolution of federal and state funding is, we are committed to delivering best-in-class value to our students.

    This past week we announced an increase of 4.8 percent in tuition and fees for next year. The increase is necessary to help cover cost increases in health and pension benefits for employees, as well as other costs and contracts, a yet-to-be-approved modest salary increase, and a number of enhancements in program quality and services. The increase is higher than last year’s (3.0 percent) and the year prior (3.8 percent), and lower than in 2011-12 (6.7 percent).  Since 2011-12, Mason will have accumulated a 12 percent increase in tuition and fees, among the lowest in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In spite of these increases, Mason’s tuition and fees remain below the average for all public universities in Virginia, and significantly lower than the average doctoral institutions.

    The combination of high employment outcomes and comparatively low tuition is the reason why our graduates have one of the lowest default rates on student loans in the nation and why Mason is consistently ranked as one of the best values in higher education by the Princeton Review, Kiplinger’sPersonal Finance, and others.

    Financial return is by no means the only—and for many not even the most important—value of a college degree. And there is clearly not one definition of career success either. But in an environment of growing tuition and questions about college affordability, financial considerations take on a heightened importance. As our Rector Dan Clemente said, “We are taking all appropriate steps to control our costs and find efficiencies while remaining affordable, accessible, and enhancing the quality of our education.” That’s our commitment to our students.  I hope they feel we delivered.

     

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    What is a great college?

    Posted: May 4, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    Eduardo Padrón, one of the most impressive educators in the U.S., was kind enough to include me among a group of university leaders who spoke at the five different commencement ceremonies of Miami Dade College this past Saturday.  To make things even better, I got to share the stage with Vice President Joe Biden and receive an honorary degree along with him (I guess that makes us classmates!).

    The press quickly zeroed in on the Vice President’s references to immigration (the photo is from the U.S. News site). But the context of his remarks was a bit broader.  He referenced a conversation he had with Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore in which he, Biden, described the “secret sauce” of American progress as a combination of (1) a lack of reverence for orthodoxy and (2) a constant influx of immigrants.  As I have written here before, I believe this theory rings true and Miami Dade College is a perfect example.

    Miami Dade College is considered to be America’s largest public institution of higher education (15,000 students graduated this year and total enrollment is well above 150,000).  It is also perhaps the most diverse.  It graduates the largest number of African Americans and Hispanics, and the majority of its students are the first generation in their families to go to college.  Many were born to immigrants or are immigrants themselves.  My colleague Bob Templin, president of another great American college, Northern Virginia Community College (my commencement address there last year is available here), has referred to universities as “the Ellis Island” of the 21st century.  Spend a morning at NOVA or at Miami Dade and you will see how right he is.

    When it was my turn to speak I couldn’t help but point out to the Vice President that he was sitting between two university leaders (Dr. Padrón and myself) who were both born outside of the United States and who are both the product of public higher education.  In what other country in the world, I asked, would you find two of the largest institutions of higher education led by immigrants?

    I told students they should be very proud for two reasons. First because they just made the best investment in their lives. Beware the pundits who like to question the value of a college degree, because they most likely owe their own careers to the college education they were likely to receive themselves!

    Second, they should be very proud of their alma mater.  I often think we have our scales wrong.  We shouldn’t measure how great a university is by how exclusive it is, by how much it spends to educate one student or by how well educated students already are by the time they get admitted.  We should measure a great university by how many lives it manages to change for the better with the resources it has, by how much opportunity it creates and how well prepared their graduates are regardless of their beginnings.  By that measure, Miami Dade College could well be one of the greatest colleges in America.

    Thank you President Padrón and your entire faculty and administration for your passion for education and your dedication to your students.  And big kudos to the Board of Trustees (this photo was taken as we patiently awaited the arrival of Air Force Two), which almost in its entirety participates in each of the commencement ceremonies taking place the same day.  I was inspired and moved by their commitment to higher education.

     

     

     

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