Time for optimism in higher education

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Much of the discourse about higher education in recent years has been negative, but as I sit in my office writing this column on a beautiful spring afternoon in College Place I am optimistic. The sun is out, the flowers are blooming, and our campus is teeming with enthusiastic young people soaking up new knowledge, learning about themselves and the world and dreaming about a bright future.

We in the Walla Walla area are extraordinarily blessed with a wealth of diverse, high-quality colleges that serve the educational needs of our students as well as the social and cultural needs of the broader community.

The annual Tri-College Spring Service Day on April 21 is a shining example of how our area higher education institutions contribute to the quality of life in our community.

Hundreds of students from Walla Walla University, Whitman College and Walla Walla Community College will team up on approximately two dozen community service projects. It’s one way we give back to the people in our area who so generously support our institutions year after year.

The colleges contribute more than service to the community. Interesting public lectures, art, music and theater offerings, athletic events, and worship and fellowship opportunities all add to the rich life of our region.

Helping others is an important aspect of our life at Walla Walla University. As a community of faith and discovery, we are committed to excellence in thought, generosity in service, beauty in expression, and faith in God.

Our generosity in service happens throughout the year, as students create ways to help out with blanket drives, tutoring, mentoring, and a downtown ministry program that helps so many people in ways big and small.

It is a time for great optimism on our campus. This year we had one of our largest freshman classes, and the total number of students (1,940) attending the university is among the highest in our history.

There are a lot of reasons for that. The university has an excellent academic reputation. Many students are drawn to us because of our attention to both mind and spirit. We work hard to make financial aid available so that a great education is affordable.

And — let’s face it — our community is a great place to live, work, and learn.

I also am optimistic about what I hear from the state capitol in Olympia. After years of drastic reductions in support for higher education, especially at the state’s public colleges and universities, most of the talk from the Legislature this year is about putting the brakes on tuition inflation, supporting financial aid programs and creating opportunities for more students to enjoy and benefit from a college education that will open the doors to a productive and meaningful life.

While the state budget will not be finalized until the end of this month, we are guardedly hopeful that the days of balancing it on the backs of college students are over.

Thank you, readers of the Union-Bulletin, for your pride in our community and your support of higher education here in Southeastern Washington. We share your appreciation of our wonderful corner of the world and cherish our good friends and neighbors.

Our primary mission of education doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s a living, breathing effort that is all about all of the people.

As we create knowledge, as we explore faith, as we appreciate the world around us, and as we serve others, we are all truly enriched. Hand in hand we are making an excellent investment in our collective futures.

John McVay is president of Walla Walla University.

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