The concept of increasing access to higher education was discussed in a recent White House meeting by a group of community college executives and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Held July 29, that gathering included Odessa College President Gregory Williams at a meeting at the White House. Williams was in Washington, D.C., from July 27-31 for a meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges executive board.
At that White House gathering, Williams said he was among a group from Texas residents and community college board members from around offering input on the concept of free community college education.
The idea would be to make college more accessible to people who are not poor enough for a lot of loan or scholarship help, but not rich enough to pay the full cost of a college degree. “They were trying to get the involvement of individuals across the United States,” Williams said. He added that input was being sought that day from Texans in an effort to gain support for the proposal.
“What that effort is about (is) similar to some of the things we’ve been talking about in Ector County and Odessa where we’re talking about the middle group who struggle sometimes with tuition, fees and books and the administration is trying to find a way to help that group,” Williams said.
Based on what he’s seen, Williams said, it would involve getting more grassroots efforts going, but have the federal government help out, similar to what the Odessa College Foundation does. According to its web page, the foundation’s mission is to secure donations for scholarship assistance through the annual campaign and Leave-A-Legacy Campaign; to secure donations to the college that foster the continuation and development of projects and training programs; and to unify the community in promoting philanthropy for higher education at Odessa College.
“That fits in with what we’re trying to do,” Williams said, to allow more access to and success in higher education.
“We’re trying to create a culture, not only at our college but in our community … where higher education can have more value and is seen as being more valuable to individual, so they can have more steady existence. …,” Williams added.
Williams said he would hope he was selected to attend the White House meeting because of strides being made at OC to change the higher education landscape. He said he enjoyed being able to listen to other opinions from people who also are trying to improve education and educational outcomes.
“We’re trying to change the country from right here in Odessa,” Williams said. That’s done by being “really, really good here first” and having others want to be like Odessa College.
“If we can keep this up and be even better, we can make an impact,” Williams added.
On the idea of free community college education, Williams said he would like to see the terms adjusted to where it was more of a scholarship to indicate that students earned it. “But I do believe in the idea of access and giving as many people a chance to go to college as possible. … You know we’re going to spend the money in some category; we’re going to have to invest in our people one way or another. Research shows we do better when we invest in educational programs, so people can become taxpayers, positive contributors to our society and make an impact and pursue with all their strength and might the American dream,” he said.
This is Williams’ second year on the American Association of Community Colleges board and his first on the executive committee. The AACC board has 32 members and the executive committee has eight. He said he is the only member from Texas.
There are eight community college presidents out of 1,200 who serve on the executive committee, said Don Wood, Odessa College vice president for institutional effectiveness. “So it’s an enormous opportunity for us and it’s a very high honor to be chosen to be on that committee,” Wood said.
Wood said there are a lot of great ideas in West Texas and it is “really wonderful” to see the region begin to have a voice at the “very highest levels.”
From an Odessa College perspective, Wood said it was gratifying to see that what the college is doing is being recognized. “And Dr. Williams is recognized now as a leader in helping to improve educational opportunities for students. …What’s going on at Odessa College is drawing national attention. It’s extraordinary. In some respects, it doesn’t matter where you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re from a rural area. Good ideas have a way of rising to the top.
Ruth Campbell covers education for the Odessa American. Reach her at 432-333-7765432-333-7765 or firstname.lastname@example.org