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Innovation and excellence

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Paul C. PribbenowAs I write this, there is much conversation around the country about President Obama’s challenge to colleges and universities to stem tuition increases and make higher education more accessible. It is an important challenge and one we take seriously at Augsburg.

In many ways, Augsburg’s longstanding commitment to access and excellence prepares us well to address the challenge. We have developed a strategic model for using College-funded financial aid to make college accessible for a diverse student body. We are involved in ongoing efforts to link academic planning, enrollment outlooks, and a sustainable financial model. We focus our attention as a campus community on ensuring that students are at the center of our lives and that their success is our primary objective. All of these efforts are mission-based and challenge us to be open to innovative ways to ensure that Augsburg’s excellence is sustained into the future.

In fact, Augsburg 2019, our strategic map, names innovation and excellence as one of our three key pathways to our future. (The others are student success and telling Augsburg’s story in word and deed.) You will read in this issue of Augsburg Now about several innovative projects, including the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, the American Commonwealth Partnership (see page 2), and the opening of the new Gage Center for Student Success (see page 3 and back cover).

All of this said, however, we still must ask ourselves a fundamental question about higher education and about Augsburg in particular. That question is this: Is it worth it? Why would any of us—parents and students who pay tuition, alumni and friends who make gifts—invest the time and energy and money that college demands?

It is a question I think a good bit about, though I certainly will admit my bias as a lifelong educator. In engaging in the important public conversations about the role of higher education for our economy and democracy, there is great value in revisiting the reasons why the sort of education Augsburg offers is worth it—for our students, graduates, and the world.

I find essayist and poet (and farmer) Wendell Berry’s words in his prose-poem “Damage” particularly instructive when he writes: “No expert knows everything about every place, not even everything about any place. If one’s knowledge of one’s whereabouts is insufficient, if one’s judgment is unsound, then expert advice is of little use.”

Education, in other words, is not about taking someone else’s word for it. It is about finding our own way into an understanding of our world and our whereabouts so that we might use our education to make our whereabouts safer and healthier, and more fair and just. This is how we think about education here at Augsburg. Students come here not to be filled up with someone else’s knowledge but to find and ask their own questions, to test their own hypotheses, to create their own art and music, and to engage our neighborhood and world as they learn and serve. They come here to learn about themselves, to learn with each other and with our remarkable faculty, and to learn about the world they inhabit with all its diversity and complexity.

And then in a few short years, we send them out from here to use their education in service and leadership in the world. We count on them to take the questions they have asked here and knowledge they have gained about their whereabouts, and then we watch with great pride and expectation how their Augsburg education makes the world a better place for all of us.

Accountability for our plans and budgets? Indeed. Innovation and excellence in support of our students? You can count on it. But in the end, we must be passionate advocates for the value—the worth—of the sort of education Augsburg offers and the difference it makes for our students and the world. I thank all of you for your support and passion. Please share our amazing story!

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