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Access to college education for students one wish for 2009

Saturday, December 13, 2008  
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Posted December 13, 2008 @ 3:14 p.m.
As we begin the holiday season and contemplate the advent of a new year, we are encouraged to reflect on the year past. Several events best reveal just how much our lives, the lives of our students and the general state of higher education have been affected. 
First, the global financial crisis has resulted in tighter credit, increased unemployment and decreased confidence in the economy. With so many negative economic factors confronting families, it may be more difficult in the future for students to afford a college education, despite the fact that $80 billion in federal aid is disbursed annually across the U.S. Beyond federal loans, students seek alternative loans through banks and other sources.
With many lenders currently reluctant to loan money, many deserving students may not be able to go to college. The first signs of this are expected across the country with decreasing student enrollments for the second semester. Fortunately, Rockford College is on track to meet, if not exceed, our spring enrollment projections.  
The election of Barack Obama as president ranks high as an important event. Whether you voted for him or not, President-elect Obama had the effect of galvanizing different segments of society, including many college students. His election serves as a reminder of something we often say to students: With the right measure of hard work and perseverance, you can be anything you want to be. 
Our new president will face a myriad of challenges, including several in the sphere of higher education. Congress passed a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act in August, which advances key reforms in the pricing of a college education and removes obstacles that make it more difficult for qualified students to go to college. More than 90 percent of full-time, degree-seeking undergraduate students attending Rockford College benefit from funding authorized by the HEA. It’s now up to those of us who work in higher education and President-elect Obama to advance the causes of affordability and accessibility. 
Residents of this community and our students were glued to their TVs watching the Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. A couple of months before the Olympics, I traveled to China and walked around Tiananmen Square, home of the major symbols of communism in China. You might remember that 100,000 students participated in a demonstration in Tiananmen Square in 1989 to highlight their call for democracy. The Chinese Communist Party responded by ordering troops to the square, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of students and the injury of thousands.
During this trip, I noticed very few outward signs of protest and many symbols of the significant entrenchment of communism. Privately, a few of my Chinese hosts shared their dreams for freedom and also their belief that a political change could not be made until the current leaders give way to the next generation. Rockford College will join other U.S. colleges in helping to shape that next generation. We are currently engaged in the creation of partnerships with Chinese universities that will add to the number of students from China studying at Rockford College in the near future.
Lastly, but certainly no less important than the other events, is the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. These conflicts continued in 2008 with some encouraging signs, including a reduction in violence and a pact to withdraw troops from Iraq while ensuring the continued security of that region. This is a story that hits home for my family as our son is a member of the Ohio National Guard and has already had one tour of duty in Iraq. Also, several Rockford College students have served our country in these conflicts. Pettigrew Wheaton served in Afghanistan, Qatar and Kyrgyzstan, and she is now participating in the Troops to Teachers program at the college. 
To all of the soldiers who dutifully serve our country and to all of you, the very best for a joyous holiday season and a safe, happy and peaceful 2009!
Dr. Robert L. Head is president of Rockford College.

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