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WGU Commencement Address from Dr. Ted Mitchell
WGU Commencement Address from Dr. Ted Mitchell
Western Governors University
<p>The President of the American Council on Education and the former Under Secretary of the United States Department of Education, Dr. Ted Mitchell delivered the Commencement Address at WGU's Bachelor's and Master's Commencement Ceremonies in Washington, D.C. at the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Constitution Hall. This is a video recording from the Master's Commencement Ceremony.</p> <p>Transcript of the video:</p> <p>I'm pleased to introduce Dr. Ted Mitchell, our commencement speaker today. Ted Mitchell is the president of the American Council on Education, the major coordinating body for America's colleges and universities. Prior to coming to ACE, Ted was the Undersecretary of the United States Department of Education, responsible for all post secondary, and adult education policy and programs as well as the $1.3 trillion federal student aid portfolio. </p> <p>Prior to his federal service, Mitchell was the CEO of the New Schools Venture Fund, a national investor in education innovation. He has served as well as president of the California State Board of Education, president of Occidental College, and in a variety of leadership roles at UCLA, including Vice Chancellor. Ted was deputy to the president and to the provost at Stanford University, and he began his career as a professor at Dartmouth College, where he also served as chair of the Department of Education. Please welcome Dr. Ted Mitchell. [Applause] </p> <p>Dr. Ted Mitchell: Thank you, President Pulsipher. Members of the board of trustees, distinguished guests, faculty, students, friends, family, it's great to be here. It's wonderful to be celebrating this milestone with you. Scott, I want to take a moment to thank you personally for inviting me here today, and it's an honor to share the stage with you as well. Your leadership of WGU has been truly outstanding. You have led WGU to become a real force in the lives of hundreds of thousands of learners, and in our field. You took the helm of an institution that was already thriving, and pushed the accelerator down, and built on its many strengths to make it a beacon for American higher education. </p> <p>Unlike most of the presidents I spend my days with, you're not a "tweedy academic." I think some would say that you're a "non traditional" choice. But that's the point. Like WGU itself, and like today's graduates, you're breaking the mold, and setting a course that meets the needs of today's learners and tomorrow's economy through technology-powered and people-inspired innovation that is laser focused on student success. And that's exactly what higher education needs right now. Thank you for your example. [applause] </p> <p>So could we do one more round of applause for the family and friends and faculty? [Applause] Higher education is a team sport, and this is a great, great team. </p> <p>And now, to the guests of honor. If I have my math right, over 40 years in higher education, I've listened to more than a hundred graduation speeches. So I really feel your pain and I promise to follow Franklin Roosevelt's sage advice to "be sincere, be brief, and be seated." </p> <p>So I have three things. First, congratulations. Your achievements are impressive collectively, as well as individually. The size of this graduating class alone is an indication that something very special is going on at WGU. It's not every place that needs to divide its ceremony in two to celebrate all of its graduates. Individually, you have made sacrifices, whether it's staying up late after putting the kids to bed, finding time after a long workday to put in just a few more hours at your computer. Indeed, you've all sacrificed to be here today and you made it. Please give yourselves a round of applause. [Applause] </p> <p>Scott talked about some of the demographic statistics of this class. In addition to what Scott mentioned, 90 percent of you work full or part time. How many of you are parents yourselves? There you go. It takes a minute or two during the day. And we've already celebrated the returning veterans and active duty service members, and the 39 percent of you who are the first in your families to go to college. You know, I think, that the research suggests that all of these are risk factors against successful completion of a degree. Yet, as Scott mentioned, the average time to completion for your graduate degrees was less than two years, far less than in traditional programs, serving what we used to think of as traditional students. </p> <p>It's one thing to talk about the numbers, but behind those numbers are your stories, your individual journeys. Like that of Destiny Coleman, our outstanding national anthem singer this morning. Not only is she, as we know, a gifted performer, Destiny has thrived at her job with Opera Columbus in Ohio, where she is the Director of Education in Artistic Administration. </p> <p>She enrolled at WGU with a goal of advancing her career and found that her courses have helped her become a better strategic planner and a more effective leader. She was attracted to WGU because of its affordability and its unique learning model. She says she was – see, people are crying already, and I haven't even gotten through the first one. [laughter] She said – don't worry, don't worry, I'm getting there. She says she was able to move at her own pace, taking one course at a time, so she could balance her work with her studies. </p> <p>Also here today is Betty [Dornoval?],who is getting a Master's of Science in Nursing. Betty made the decision to obtain her Master's degree just two years after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. And as she juggled the responsibilities of her own health care, caring for a special needs child, and working full-time, she nonetheless felt that furthering her education was a goal worth pursuing. Now, working as a correctional nurse, Betty is able to use her newly-acquired skills in nursing informatics to lead her team, and finds herself even more effective in that role. Congratulations to both of you, and through your stories, congratulations to this class. [applause]</p> <p>Second, I want to thank you. By taking on the challenges you have, and by surmounting them, you are already making changes in your life that will have an impact. Your degree will have an impact on your lives like earnings, the opportunities for more and better career choices, and statistically, you will improve your health and sense of wellbeing. But you'll have an impact in other ways as well. </p> <p>President Pulsipher talked about the increased likelihood in families with college graduates, of successive generations going on to college. That's true. It's important. It's a trajectory changer for whole families, and whole networks of people. Sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, cousins, nieces and nephews will all be inspired by your example. </p> <p>I remember well, watching as my father balanced work and family to gain his Master's degree while I was in elementary school. Those were the days when distance education meant long trips in the family station wagon and assignments being mailed to a distant campus. But even now, thinking back, I know how important watching him struggle and succeed was, to me, in shaping the way that I thought about my own education, and later, in fact, about how I think about education policy. but that's a story for another day. </p> <p>You will also expand the impact that you have on your workplace, whether that's a hospital, a school, a business, or an IT department. The knowledge you've acquired will make those better organizations not just because of what you do there, but how you do it. You will inspire those who work with you, and for you, to continue their own educational journey. Maybe right here at WGU. </p> <p>And you will have an impact on your communities. We know from research that individuals with advanced degrees are not only called on, to lead, but take on leadership roles in their communities, and volunteer in non profit organizations, and in the day to day interactions that define who we are as an inclusive and generous democracy. </p> <p>So, for all of these things, I want to thank you. But I want to thank you and WGU for one more thing: Thank you for showing us the future. A moment ago I compared you with so called traditional students. Scott went through the demographics of this class. Well, I think the formulation of tradition students is outmoded and outdated. In addition to the characteristics of your class, let me tell you a little bit about the characteristics of college students in America generally. Guess what, they look a lot like you. </p> <p>The average age of a college student is between 26 and 28. 1 and 5 is over 30. More than half are financially independent of their parents, 1 is 4 is caring for at least one child or an aging adult. The majority work full-time or part time. Many stop out for periods of time while finishing their degree. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, in aggregate, in aggregate, 73 percent of college students in America today, fall into one or more of those categories. And described by one or more of those characteristics. </p> <p>So I don't think that we have a traditional college student anymore. We have a new normal college student, and you are that new normal college student, and you are the future of higher education in this country. [applause]</p> <p>Unfortunately too much of our higher educational system is still organized around the notion that a college student is an 18 year old who gets dropped off in the family minivan at Leafy State University, moves into the dorm, and Leaves four years later with a diploma and an education that somehow will suffice for a lifetime. One of the things that makes your journeys so important, and your stories so relevant is that you have challenged this old system. You have prevailed against its imperfections, and you have partnered with an institution that just plain sees the world differently, sees the world through the lens of the new normal student and has built programs and systems that reach where you are, on your own terms, at your own pace, with rigor, with support, and flexibility. </p> <p>WGU is unique because it's designed to remove so many of the barriers students face at other institutions. WGU offers students flexibility to learn at your own pace. WGU has pioneered a unique and powerful faculty model that gives you access to the right support from the right person, at the right time. And WGU has created a pricing model that enables you to complete your coursework in a way that doesn't break the bank. WGU has built a credentials focused curriculum that focuses on learning outcomes rather than class time. And WGU students enjoy invaluable resources that put them on the road to success including access to state of the art distance learning systems, advanced curriculum models or that truly dedicated student-focused faculty. And it's working. </p> <p>WGU boasts a graduation rate 11 percent higher than other institutions serving adult learners. The levels of student graduate and employer satisfaction regularly outpaced the national average. Student debt levels have been steadily decreasing. Yup, decreasing, at WGU. [Applause] And employment outcomes for graduates are at 96 percent. [applause]</p> <p>At ACE, we're trying to do our part to encourage a climate where transformative models like WGU can thrive and where every student in this student has access not just to higher education, but to quality higher education that will change their lives and the life of the nation. As a country, we can do more to support innovative practices and innovative institutions. We can do more to increase access, affordability, and completion across the nation, particularly for students who have not been well-served by the old system.</p> <p>New normal students, folks from low income backgrounds, students of color, first generation students, and Americans from rural communities where education resources are sparse these are populations we must serve if we are to live up to our highest ideals. But that's the WGU story, and that is your story. I hope that my colleagues across the road in D.C. will take note of what you and WGU have accomplished together. </p> <p>Third, and finally, I want to give you a last homework assignment. It goes like this: Now is your time to take what you've learned and make us all better. Remember the obstacles you've overcome to get here, and help others overcome theirs. Mentor others. Speak out for causes you believe in. Your success is a powerful example and a powerful tool of what's possible for all of us. You're transforming yourselves, your families, and your communities. You are the ones that are now setting the pace. You are the ones who will go back to your loved ones, your jobs, and be the face of success in America. </p> <p>You are what America was designed to do and to celebrate. I am hopeful for our collective future because of you, of what you have done, and what you will do. The truth is, everything you've done to get here today is noteworthy. But what you will continue to do from this day forward is what's going to change all of us for the better. Thank you, good luck, and congratulations. [Applause]</p>
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