Stories of Transformation
One of the best things about serving as Oregon Quarterly’s editor is, of course, the stories. The stories are why you pick up the magazine when it arrives in your mailbox (or inbox, or Facebook feed), and they’re why I’m convinced I have one of the best jobs in town. It’s not just about the stories we bring you, our readers, but also the stories you bring us. Many of my favorites involve escapades and shenanigans of decades past, which are recounted by alumni as if the mischief took place just last week. Those are the funny ones—of painting the “O” on Skinner Butte, chasing Puddles in the Millrace, and pranking one’s housemates in admirably creative ways.
The most moving stories, though, are about transformation. I’m consistently humbled and impressed by the stories I hear of the very real difference attending the University of Oregon made in the trajectory of someone’s life. The intellectual and creative passions stoked, the careers launched, and the lifelong relationships fostered on this campus. So it’s no wonder that the concern I hear most often from alumni is their worry that bright, ambitious, young people will not have the same opportunities they did. That lower- and middle-income students are losing access to the very thing—a college degree—that has been shown, time and time again, to be one of the greatest positive influences on one’s lifetime earnings (1.6 times greater than those with high-school diplomas alone), and even on their health, happiness, and community involvement.
This week, as we prepared to send this issue of Oregon Quarterly to press, the UO’s new president spoke to the campus community on this very topic. In his first all-campus address, Michael Schill laid out an initiative he calls the Oregon Commitment. It’s a “promise of access and success,” a seven-point plan designed to make the university more affordable for lower-income students; to support pipeline programs that prepare high school students for the rigors of college; to improve retention rates and on-time graduation (because graduating in four years is one of the surest ways to reduce student debt); and to significantly expand scholarships and financial aid, primarily through philanthropic support.
It was a heartening message to hear, particularly as we wrapped up work on this issue. One of our feature stories, “Dreams Within Reach,” focuses on PathwayOregon, a program that is central to the president’s initiative. Launched in 2008, within its first year PathwayOregon nearly erased the gap in four-year graduation rates between Oregon students eligible for Federal Pell Grants (a need-based program) and their more affluent peers. The program—which employs an innovative mix of financial, academic, and social support and leverages multiple funding sources—has enabled thousands of students to attend the UO. Hearing their stories, four of which are included in this issue beginning on page 32, reminded me why this job is so rewarding. We’re all well aware of the rising cost of higher education and the staggering burden of student debt facing recent graduates in our country. But the steps the UO is taking, through programs like PathwayOregon and initiatives like President Schill’s Oregon Commitment, assure me that the UO will continue to fight the good fight for access to higher education. And seeing our students rise to the occasion, committing themselves to making the most of the opportunities they’ve earned, gives me optimism that more students will have stories of transformation to tell, like so many of our alumni do, for generations to come.
Ann Wiens, Editor