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Ed Ray says OSU can and should do better to reduce achievement gap

TRIBUNE PHOTO: SHASTA KEARNS MOORE - Oregon State University President Ed Ray speaks to the editorial board of the Portland Tribune.Speaking out against the loss of American opportunity, Oregon State University President Ed Ray said Friday that he understands why voters are turning out for anti-establishment U.S. presidential candidates Republican Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT).

“We are at risk of creating a permanent underclass of citizens who have no stake in this society, because for them, the American Dream does not exist,” Ray said. “The American Dream is alive and well — if you’re wealthy. If you’re not, you’ve got a big problem.”

Ray said that in 1970, kids from the wealthiest quarter of American families had a 44 percent chance of going to college. In 2012, that jumped to an 82 percent chance. Over the same period of time, the chance that kids from the poorest quarter of American families went to college rose just three percentage points, from 6 to 9 percent, Ray said.

“So it’s not zero, but it’s pretty damn close to zero,” Ray said. “I think part of what you see with Bernie Sanders, with Donald Trump, is there are a lot of people who are not only vulnerable but who are terribly afraid. And they are convinced that nobody cares about them and (nobody) is going to do anything to change their situation — to reach out and help them.”

OSU performing below average for students of color

Ray visited Portland to give his annual State of the University address to approximately 700 Beaver supporters at the Oregon Convention Center. He talked to the Portland Tribune editorial board afterwards.

Ray was frank about the challenges facing the university in getting students to their graduation day, particularly those who are low-income, African-American and Native American. Despite recent gains, OSU is still below the national average in achievement among students of color.

“We’ve got to deliver the goods,” Ray said. “There’s no excuse for it.”

Asked why students of color tend to struggle more at OSU, Ray said:

“Let’s be clear: We live in a still-racist society. The people who are at the greatest economic disadvantage and social vulnerability are people who’ve been marginalized and kept outside the mainstream and that is predominantly ... the African-American community, the Native American community and to some extent the Hispanic community.”

Ray argued that “majority” and “minority” terms for race are becoming meaningless. “We’ve gotta close those gaps because that’s the workforce of the future.”

OSU has a 63 percent six-year graduation rate, which is lower than other public universities in the state, including Portland State University, Ray said.

Effectiveness, affordability and big data

Asked about the PSU initiative petition to create a payroll tax tax in the Metro district, Ray said he would not consider a similar proposal — a local tax — to support OSU.

“I haven’t got time to figure out what the hell Wim should do,” Ray said, but added: “I know his heart and brain are in the right place.”

The PSU plan aims to raise about $35 million per year in a nominal annual tax. In contrast, OSU’s much-larger fundraising engine raised $130.8 million last year, the largest single-year donation total ever.

To improve its graduation rate, OSU is teaming up with 10 other universities across the nation with a pledge to award 68,000 more degrees in the next five years. Part of the University Innovation Alliance strategy is to use data analysis on a massive number of student records to figure out the students' trajectory.

Ray says the alliance plans to use predictive factors, like the healthcare system does, to advise students. Like telling a person to make different diet choices to avoid Type 2 Diabetes, Ray hopes the data will allow future college advisors to tell students on how successful they are likely be, given certain class choices.

Once the universities uncover the paths to success, Ray says, “we will give the playbook away. This is not about making money. This is about student success.”

In order to create a score card that students can use to compare effectiveness and affordability, Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio both recently attached their names recently to a bill to raise reporting requirements for public universities.

Asked about this, Ray said: “Bring it on.”

Shasta Kearns Moore
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