Last week (July 21, 2014) Vice Provost Sukhwant Jhaj and I attended the kick-off meeting in Washington DC for a Gates Foundation grant that PSU has received from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) and the Urban Serving Universities (USU). You can read about the work PSU will be engaged in related to this grant at https://www.aplu.org/page.aspx?pid=3003&srctid=1&erid=2084940
This effort is one of the first significant investments the Gates Foundation is making in universities. Much of their (Gates Foundation) focus and funding thus far has been at the K-12 and community college levels. At the meeting in DC, a Gates Foundation representative commented on how they now realize how important the entire educational ecosystem is; that investing in universities is an important part of that. Of course, we all know that is true, but to have external recognition of that from an influential (and well endowed) foundation was validating for us.
PSU was awarded one of the 7 grants because we are seen as a leader among urban serving universities in our goals to advance student success and student completion—creating access for students, making it affordable, and helping them complete their degrees. These are the foundational goals of reTHINK PSU (http://www.rethink.pdx.edu/). It is exciting to know that the work we have articulated in creating pathways for success for students from community colleges and creating flexible degrees that serve a range of students is seen by others as one of the important directions for the future of higher education.
Having said this, these grants do not just land at our feet and the competition for this award was fierce. Sukhwant Jhaj and Hans VanDerSchaafer did a great job in writing a proposal that made the case for why PSU needed to be one of the 7 universities in the country that the Gates Foundation should invest in their inaugural effort to support universities. We imagine that the work ahead of us will not always be easy. My guess is we will run into challenges and divergent views on how to accomplish things, and we will need to make decisions at times without all the information we would like to have. But, it is important that PSU be a leader in these efforts and influence the paths of others.
I will be writing more about this effort in upcoming blogs and welcome your thoughts on this topic and our work, now or at anytime.