||Schofield Hall 218|
||Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004|
As I See It:
An opinion column in recognition of
National College Week, Nov. 15-19
Access to higher education a birthright
By Patricia A. Quinn
MAILED: Nov. 12, 1999|
If you're reading this, you're most likely a beneficiary. Thirty-five years ago the paperwork for your trust took shape, was witnessed and signed amidst fanfare and toasts. The news spread quickly via the society pages ... the Great Society pages, that is. And ever since that document became law, the Higher Education Act of 1965 has drawn interest for you.
Some grant programs at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire like Upward Bound and Special Services trace their origins to the original language of that inspired bipartisan legislation of three and a half decades ago. Others, like the Educational Opportunity Center, the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program and the UW-Eau Claire-LCO Collaborative Nursing Program, grew out of later legislation that expanded or mirrored HEA's original vision. A revolutionary vision, to say the least, and a distinctly American vision, to state the obvious, for the passage of the HEA marked the crossing of a social watershed, the impact of which we continue to observe and measure. Before HEA (and the GI Bill that shortly preceded it), college with all of its economic, intellectual and social benefits remained the privilege of the wealthy and a few brilliant persons of humble means lucky enough to have had teachers who understood how to solicit scholarships. After HEA, Title IV of which created financial aid as we know it, college became the birthright of every academically qualified American.
Compare the United States to Europe and Japan where 10 to 15 percent of secondary students continue on to university. In the United States over 30 percent of high school graduates pursue postsecondary studies. In Europe and Japan access to university frequently begins (or ends) at age 10 with qualifying exams, selection for lycee or gymnasium, or other tracking. In the United States late bloomers still have a chance, even if the "blooming" takes place 10 to 15 years out of high school. (Did I mention I work with adult, nontraditional students?)
Look around you at this institution for HEA beneficiaries, for a state comprehensive university more than any other college embodies the legacy of 1965. Some "first-wave" beneficiaries, those sons and daughters of factory workers and farmers who attended college between the Beatles and the Oil Embargo, hold tenure at UW-Eau Claire. Many department chairs and three deans "'fessed up" when I sought letters of commitment for the McNair grant proposal last year. First in their families to attend college, the first also to achieve doctorates, they enthusiastically supported this initiative to assist other first-generation scholars to train for the professoriate. For HEA accomplished more than changed who attended college. It also changed who teaches the courses and shapes the curriculum.
Throughout the '80s increasing variety marked the student body of this as well as other UW institutions, a phenomenon driven and sustained by HEA. In UW-Eau Claire classrooms returning women students studied alongside 18- to 22-year-olds; displaced Uniroyal and Cray employees retrained as nurses, teachers, journalists and network administrators. In the '90s increasing numbers of American multicultural students pursued degrees here Southeast Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans and Native Americans. The presence of this "third wave" of HEA beneficiaries enriches and expands the curriculum yet again and supplies new potential for academe in the next millennium.
In a graduate seminar 20-some years ago my doctor-father Norman Cantor described the Higher Education Act of 1965 as "the single most important development for higher learning since the creation of the university in 12th-century Europe." The heady words startled us, but he pressed on, "What will you do to further this trust? For it underlies the research your generation will undertake, the books your generation will write, the administrative posts your generation will hold, the honors your generation will receive." I believe, I sincerely hope, some fulfillment of that mandate is achieved through the grant projects underway at UW-Eau Claire, and by the ones we HEA beneficiaries will continue to author in the future.
Patricia A. Quinn, educational opportunity director at UW-Eau Claire, has been with the university since 1982. She directs the Educational Opportunity Center, a federal TRIO program which provides assistance and information to adults who seek to enter or continue a program of post-secondary education. Some of the center's services include academic, financial, or personal counseling; career exploration and aptitude assessment services; and many other activities designed to involve and acquaint individuals with higher educational opportunities.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Nov. 12, 1999