Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
2020 Commission Announcement
February 4, 1998
In 1993, this state passed a sweeping new education reform act that set in motion a process of fundamental change in public education. The new law called for the establishment of clear, high academic standards, and for holding schools and students accountable for meeting them.
The passage of that law was the culmination of a concerted effort to re-think and re-invent public education from the ground up. And it has set an ambitious agenda for school improvement that is just beginning to bear fruit.
Now it’s time to take the next step, and to re-think and re-invent higher education from the ground up.
In this century, we have focused on the mandate of our constitution to make education of all children the paramount duty of our state. But for the 21st century, our paramount duty must be to create a system of lifelong learning – a system that every person, regardless of age or place of residence can plug into for basic skills, professional advancement, or personal enrichment.
That’s why I’m announcing today the appointment of 21 of our state’s best and brightest community leaders to the 2020 Commission. This prestigious group will be co-chaired by Jack Creighton, the retired CEO of the Weyerhaueser Company, and Bob Craves, Senior Vice President of Costco.
I am not asking this Commission to address the problems of today’s higher education system. I am asking these leaders to create a clear vision of a world-class system of lifelong learning for the year 2020 and beyond. And I am asking them to map out how we can transform the higher education system of today into the lifelong learning system of tomorrow.
This is an urgent task for several reasons.
First, demand for higher education is growing faster than our ability to finance expanding enrollments in our colleges and universities. By the year 2009, there will be more young people graduating from high school than there were at the peak of the baby boom. And if current trends continue, there will also be an increasing demand for higher education among adults of all ages.
As you have heard me say before, education is the great equalizer. Our higher education system has been an historic vehicle for including people – for drawing women, people of color, veterans, and the children of blue-collar workers into positions of power and influence. But if we don’t act now, our colleges and universities will have to begin excluding an ever-higher proportion of our people. And it would be a terrible tragedy to let our colleges and universities become the educational equivalent of gated communities that admit only the affluent.
Second, we know that the educational needs of both employers and employees are changing.
A generation ago, our leading newspapers hired reporters whose only academic credential was a high school diploma. Today, the same jobs require not just a B. A. degree, but in many cases a Masters degree in journalism or communications. But there is confusion about what these requirements for higher degrees signify.
We know that over the years, the value of a high school diploma was eroded because those diplomas were awarded as certificates for attending twelve years of school – not for mastering basic academic skills.
But now that’s changing. Within just a few years, all our high school students will have to earn a certificate of mastery by showing that they have met or exceeded the tough academic standards we’ve set. At the same time, employers and community colleges have been working to develop skill standards that spell out exactly what people need to know and be able to do to qualify for specific jobs. The advent of the Certificate of Mastery and these new skill standards changes the focus from academic pedigrees to academic results.
Now we need to apply this new way of thinking to our entire higher education system. We need to ask employers what they expect the people they hire to know and be able to do in a wide variety of jobs and professions. We need to ask what we expect the graduates of our community colleges, our technical schools, and our four-year institutions to know and be able to do.
Third, we need to answer fundamental questions about how new communications technologies can transform access to higher education.
We need to be clear about what can be taught and learned with the help of communications technology, versus what must be taught and learned by teachers and students in the same room. Will it be possible for people to earn degrees via distance learning technologies or the Internet? How can we use these tools to de-institutionalize learning, and make education available to people in their homes and workplaces, when and where they need it? Can these new technologies eventually lower the cost of a college education so dramatically that student loans become a thing of the past? And in fact, how might these new learning opportunities alter our very definition of what constitutes a college education?
These questions give rise to a fourth issue: in the year 2020, what will it mean to be an educated person? What will all of us need to know in order to be active, effective citizens of a democracy? How can we prepare people to adapt to rapid change, and to think critically, so that they can shape and direct the evolution of our society?
To solve the ever-more complex problems of our environment, or sort out the ethical dilemmas posed by new scientific advances, or manage our economy, all of us will need to know more science, more history, and more math. And we will all need to develop a deeper appreciation for the arts and humanities.
The fifth and final question I hope this Commission will address is equally critical: How should we finance and support the research and scholarship that is so vital to economic development and to the advancement of human civilization? We need to set clear priorities for public investment in research, and to understand how the research functions of our universities affect their ability to do a good job of teaching.
Because these are such vital questions, I’ve chosen outstanding citizens from across our state for this Commission. I’ve chosen Jack Creighton as one of the co-chairs of this Commission because as the leader of a company that grows trees, he’s become accustomed to thinking 60 years ahead. I’ve chosen Bob Craves from Costco because he is part of a new generation of entrepreneurs who have questioned the established order,
and pulled off a retail revolution based on giving consumers more for their money.
In fact, all the members of this group are distinguished by the depth of their experience in thinking about the long term, and by their ability to both anticipate and shape the future.
This Commission is not business as usual. Its task is not to recommend piecemeal reforms, or to supersede existing higher education governing bodies. Its task is to leap over the problems of today, and focus on the needs of our state in the year 2020. You might want to call this 20/20 vision.
Once the Commission has developed a clear picture of what the people of this state will need in 2020, the specific steps we need to achieve that long-range vision will come into focus. And the work of the Commission will be the basis of our legislative agenda on higher education for 1999 and beyond.
I want to make it clear that this effort is not driven by a sense that our higher education system is deficient. On the contrary, our American higher education system has been a spectacular success. It is the envy of every other country on earth – and our state’s higher education system is the envy of many other states.
But so much is changing – in our economy, technology, and demographics – that our higher education system cannot remain the same. And that’s why we simply must create a new vision that will guide our institutions of higher learning to even greater excellence in the new millennium.
If that long-term vision upsets the apple cart of today’s higher education institutions, that’s OK. Our 1993 education reform law certainly upset the apple cart of our public schools – but now, five years later, there is a strong consensus among teachers and principals that it has given us a clear road map to higher academic achievement for our children.
We know that the steepest part of the mountain of school improvement still lies ahead. But we have identified our destination, and marked out the path. And that’s what we need to do for higher education: establish a clearer sense of purpose and direction, a clear definition of success, and a way to measure progress and improvement.
This is our chance to create a legacy that will benefit the next generation: a new, 21st century tradition of providing unlimited educational opportunity to adults of all ages, in every corner of our state.