By editorial board • 

Linfield facing challenges, but seems poised to prevail

America’s private four-year colleges have been buffeted by gale force winds of change. They face the risk of increasing marginalization, as a dwindling number of college graduates pursue a proliferating number of alternative educational and workforce options.

Against that backdrop, it was encouraging to hear Linfield President Tom Hellie acknowledge the challenges in his final state of the college address, but also identify past successes and future opportunities for the school in its efforts to weather the storm.

High school graduation and college enrollment rates have been under steady decline since 2011, and the slide is expected to continue for the next seven years. Meanwhile, a decade-long economic rebound has driven unemployment rates to record lows, ensuring jobs for virtually all able-bodied Americans entering the workforce.

With college tuition and student debt spiraling ever upward, community colleges are successfully marketing themselves as low-cost places to start out and state colleges as low-cost places to finish the job. Another less costly alternative, online study, is also booming — to the point where 30 percent of today’s students are getting at least some of their education over the internet. It doesn’t help that with high schools are now offering so many college credits, top students can potentially bank a year’s worth in advance.

At the other end of the spectrum, schools like Harvard and Stanford can tap the top 1 percent from a tidal wave of applicants, routinely run billion-dollar fundraising campaigns and rely on endowments running into the tens of billions. And there are plenty of other top tier schools emulating them with varying degrees of success.

Finally, the makeup of the college applicant school is changing. It is becoming more ethnically and economically diverse, leading schools to adapt with respect to curriculum, aid programs and campus culture.

But as Hellie noted, Linfield has a wealth of strengths, which serves to position it well in its peer group. And while some schools might be standing pat, hunkering down or even pulling back, he took pride in pledging Linfield to a course of pressing relentlessly forward.

As he nears retirement, the college is well into a search for a replacement. He believes he has set a course that should help his successor navigate the troubled private-college waters successfully in the years to come.

We certainly hope so, because McMinnville shares an uncommonly close relationship with its local liberal arts college. The two have shared a mutually beneficial cultural, educational and economic heritage for more than 150 years now, and both have a huge stake in that continuing.

The city has a lot of strengths it can tout in its own right, as reflected in the glowing state of the city address delivered Tuesday by Mayor Scott Hill and City Manager Jeff Towery. One of those strengths is a college that feeds top-drawer talent into its workforce and leadership circles on a sustained basis. 


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