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Skorton Outlines a Land-Grant Vision

This week President David J. Skorton has essentially laid out a comprehensive vision of where land-grant colleges fit in the 21st-century landscape. Some have criticized the idea of the land-grant mission as out of date, a vestige of the post-Civil War industrial boom, but Skorton suggests that critics haven't considered the broader possibilities for American colleges and universities whose collective research expertise lies in agriculture, livestock and health.

The answer: a new Marshall Plan for the 21st century, focused not on rebuilding Europe but making higher education accessible to the developing world and providing technical assistance. He's suggested this before, but writing in this week's Chronicle Review, which requires a subscription, Skorton elaborates:

No single college or university, acting alone, can achieve what will be needed in tomorrow's world. Together, however, the nation's great research institutions -- public and private, land-grant and Ivy League, working with the U.S. government, businesses, foundations, nongovernmental organizations, and, most important, our academic colleagues overseas -- can offer a more focused application of our own resources to reach out, materially and directly, to assist and improve the quality of life.

Then Skorton picks up on this summer's Congressional testimony and appears to make a pitch for an increased American university presence abroad (which skeptics would also attribute to a strong profit motive):

The reality is that there is not enough capacity worldwide to satisfy the spiraling demand for higher education, which is fueled by the needs of an exploding global middle class -- particularly in China and India -- and the collapse of Africa's higher-education infrastructure. That leaves a growing number of capable students with no options to pursue their education. Simply put, we cannot handle tomorrow's students and the demands for advanced skills with the resources that exist today.

The solution? Build on the land-grant model!

In the United States, we can tap the strengths of higher education to develop a new kind of plan to deal with this challenge. First, the many research and land-grant colleges and universities should coordinate their current efforts in capacity building in the developing world, perhaps through intercampus agreements or professional associations like the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.

... Then hope Congress backs a massive financial push to expand higher education abroad, like it did this month (kind of) with the passage of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act. It's worth noting that Skorton is, so far, putting his money (or at least, willing donors' money) where his mouth is: Cornell is supporting a new doctoral program in plant breeding at the University of Ghana in addition to sending faculty to Ethiopia to start the university's first degree program in Africa, a Master of Professional Studies in international agriculture and rural development.

Andy Guess | Posted on September 19, 2007 (#)

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