Yesterday I flew to our nation’s capital on the heels of President Obama’s State of the Union address to attend the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities’ 35th Annual Presidents Conference. I’d watched Obama, like so many Americans, eager to see if the spirit of civility that arose in the wake of the Arizona tragedy would remain. Political pundits claimed the president’s speech lacked the inspiration of the eulogy delivered days before in honor of the fallen in Arizona. But the essence of his address transcended partisanship. He issued a proclamation, a bold statement on how to “win the future.” His roadmap begins with the family, finds fuel in access to education, and challenges the American people to call upon the creativity that has launched our greatest innovations and resulted in our global leadership.
With bags in hand and in view of the snow that blanketed the mall, I considered again the president’s words. Obama summoned the American people to success. He outlined a call to action that places education and innovation front and center. As a university president, this challenge raises the heat under our mission and purpose. As the president of Azusa Pacific, the largest Christian college on the West Coast, a private institution that prepares the third largest number of educators in California, an academy with a $54 million science center and an exemplary faculty preparing future doctors and nurses, engineers and scientists, math teachers and physical therapists, the urgency that surrounds our distinct mission to equip disciples and scholars to advance the work of God in the world ratcheted up several notches.
President Obama exposed this dismal truth: “America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree. And so the question is whether all of us—as citizens, and as parents—are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.” Making an APU education accessible and affordable to those who want it, not to mention retaining them once here through to graduation, presents significant challenges that we’re meeting head on and determined to overcome.
I agree with Obama that “the education race doesn’t end with a high school diploma. To compete, higher education must be within reach of every American.” That’s why we want to ensure the affordability of an APU education for anyone who wants it. To do so, we’re focusing on transfer students, making the transition easier and earning an APU degree possible in two years. This not only means transfer students hit the job market faster, but also addresses the issue of access for ethnic minorities which remains a critical component of our commitment to diversity. We’re also keeping tuition increases modest, bearing in mind the economic beating many of our students’ parents have weathered in the last several years.
I loved it when Obama put the onus of sparking the love of learning back on the family. He said, “That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done. We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair; that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.”
Obama championed the family and so do we. That respect for the family undergirded our decision to bring on the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at APU. We want to give our community and alumni the resources and skills needed to nurture great marriages and raise good kids, people you and I want to call neighbor, whether that’s in Azusa or Zambia.
Then President Obama turned to the unsung hero: the teacher. He reminded us that “the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as ‘nation builders.’ Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect.” In 10 years, Obama wants 100,000 new math and science teachers. Think about that for a moment: We are in the business of equipping students poised to become nation builders and world changers.
What an opportunity, and this university can be part of that education revolution. We have great facilities in which to train future scientists, doctors, and math and science teachers, with the very best scholars to guide them. We have a track record of success—our graduates exceed the national average for obtaining admission to the best medical and dental schools and nursing and physical therapy programs by several fold. We train teachers that transform classrooms in math and in science, in English and in history. I’m the president, and I know I’m biased, but there’s proof to back up my claim. Superintendents in districts near and far comment on the difference in our graduates as educators. Yes, they possess the requisite competencies, but they also possess the character. Did you know we have two California Teachers of the Year in our alumni ranks?
Then Obama issued a challenge that I pray many of our current and prospective students and alumni considering career change heed, “In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child—become a teacher. Your country needs you.”
And this country needs universities like Azusa Pacific University. We have an awesome responsibility first to our God and then to our country. Join me in this effort.