Jaime Van Mourik , Higher Ed Manager
Last week, I had the privilege and honor of speaking at the 2nd Ohio Higher Education Sustainability Conference held at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, and organized by the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education. Not having much knowledge of Ohio beyond a few activities at universities throughout the years, I was impressed to hear about the great work being done in the “Buckeye State.” The theme of the conference was “Being Sustainable through Collaboration,” which carried through every presentation.
The conference began with a morning keynote from Noelle Studer-Spevak, the sustainability coordinator at Portland State University, who tried to dispel the myth that Oregon is some magical place for sustainability. Being an Ohio native she did a great job of comparing the two states and showing that in fact Ohio could emulate a lot of what is happening in Oregon.
The talk was followed by a President’s Panel consisting of a group of four leaders representing different types of institutions in the state. The University of Toledo President argued that higher education is unsustainable as tuition prices have been rising at a rate of 2 ½-to-3 times the rate of inflation for the last two decades. As someone who currently holds quite a bit of debt in student loans, I certainly agree that something needs to change. Students are now questioning the value of college as they assess the return on investment for their education.
Higher education stands at a crossroads – the question is can this sector be reinvented? Will sustainability become the engine for future prosperity? It will be interesting to hear how schools plan to stay relevant and competitive. What impressed me the most about the morning session were the two presentations given by students. One group presented on all the fantastic work being done at the University of Cincinnati toward sustainability, including a program that employs 12 student ambassadors who lead education and outreach efforts on campus. Another group spoke about the work of the Rivers Institute at the University of Dayton, which introduces and educations students about Dayton’s most important and long time forgotten natural resource – the Great Miami River.
It’s hard not to enroll in any of these programs after hearing the passion and enthusiasm in thestudents’ voices. Even though I had an early flight to catch and missed the afternoon session, the time spent in Dayton was well worth the trip. Despite all the financial heartache colleges and universities have felt over the past few years, the momentum continues to remain strong on the journey to a sustainable future.