When Justin Morrill helped craft the ground-breaking legislation that created the land-grant university system in 1860, he hoped that it would change the face of society. During the next 150 years, Morrill’s vision became the land-grant universities’ competitive advantage in the marketplace of knowledge: university-based knowledge could be extended to people beyond the university to help solve problems and improve lives. To stay competitive, the land grant universities addressed questions such as: Do we provide access to information that makes a difference? And are we maintaining our role as a respected source of relevant, objective, science-based information?
In the future, however, there will be new questions: Do we provide opportunities for people to learn from each other and not only from us? Do we listen to the needs expressed by our learners, students, decision-makers and partners? Likewise, do we learn from learners and partners to improve our efforts to provide access to knowledge?
To address these new questions, in 2007 Oregon State University created the Division of University Outreach and Engagement, to underscore the mission of outreach and engagement that permeates all the teaching, research, and extension offered by the university.
Our vision of how and whom our universities serve is changing as the traditional view of who students are changes. It’s been reported that nationwide only 16 percent of students in higher education fit the traditional image of an 18- to 24-year-old campus resident. Seventy percent of higher education learners are part-time students, full-time workers, or caretakers for a dependent. If access to knowledge is the fundamental goal of OSU Outreach and Engagement, then it starts at any time people need to learn.
In the next 100 years, the life of a learner will blend on-the-job and on-campus experiences. College seniors will be on the job already, finishing traditional coursework online while establishing a professional foundation. And workers already in a profession won’t “go back to school” because they’ll have been continually learning. They will have graduated, but will never really “finish college.”
Ongoing lifelong learning will be required for anyone who wants to remain viable in the workforce. To be successful at work or life, people will have to access new knowledge immediately and use it effectively. And where will this knowledge be refined and made available in ways that can be accessed quickly?
Through land-grant universities.
The gauntlet has been thrown down. We now are left to make this vision a reality for Outreach and Engagement within a 21st century land-grant university—one that respects the goals of Justin Morrill but moves aggressively to the next level of engagement with our learners.