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Reed’s New President Lauds the Liberal Arts

In his inaugural address, Reed College President John R. Kroger delighted the audience by challenging those who say a liberal arts education isn’t practical for training the workforce of the future.

“At the end of the day the world needs more people who can think outside the box,” Kroger said. “The most practical education you can have is one that doesn’t prepare you for your first job. It prepares you for the next 60 years of your life.”

Nearly 1,500 people were on hand to welcome John Kroger as Reed’s fifteenth president. Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler said Reed College has become a national beacon for the way Oregonians think and deserves to play a bigger part in the national dialogue. Local businessman and philanthropist Jordan Schnitzer encouraged Kroger to use his vision and entrepreneurial spirit to reach out to the community.

Delivering the keynote address, Bryn Mawr College President Jane McAuliffe called America’s elite liberal arts colleges a national treasure. For every 150 American undergraduates, there’s only one that can attend a school like Reed or Bryn Mawr, she said. “It is a rare privilege to attend a liberal arts college and be immersed in a collaborative learning experience with faculty,” McAuliffe said. “It is a sacred trust to sustain and enhance the qualities of such a place and in John Kroger, Reed has found a president worthy of that trust.”

The idea of a liberal arts college is under siege, Kroger said, partly because of such issues as technology and access. The expense of such an education puts it out of reach of most American families, but thanks to the generous giving of alumni and trustees, 50 percent of Reed’s students receive financial aid. This year’s freshman class has two and a half times as many Pell Grant recipients, by percentage, as Harvard has in their incoming class.

Though few would argue that technology has been a boon to the classroom; some feel it threatens institutions of higher learning. Unless the model for higher education is lecture halls filled with 700-800 students, Kroger said, education cannot be delivered on the internet.

“For me, education is interactive and happens in conference when students talk amongst themselves, or after class where they continue the discussion about the ideas that inspire them,” Kroger said. “These are things the internet cannot deliver. In the coming years we have to more forcibly articulate our vision of education as a human and social endeavor, one that can’t simply be reduced to a business model that labels efficiency as the highest goal.”