ADEA CCI Liaison Ledger

UNT President Dr. Gretchen Bataille Speaks at ADEA Annual Session

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In 2006, Dr. Gretchen M. Bataille became the 14th president of the University of North Texas (UNT) and the first woman in the university’s 116-year history to hold the position of CEO. Previously, Dr. Bataille served as the chief academic officer at the 16-campus University of North Carolina system. The UNC system is composed of the state’s 16 public universities that grant baccalaureate and advanced degrees, including two medical schools and schools of dentistry, pharmacy, public health and veterinary schools.

President Bataille gave the opening remarks at the first Liaison session at the ADEA Annual Session in Dallas. She opened with a proverb that states, "When planning a year ahead, plant grain; when planning for ten years ahead, plant trees; and when planning fifty years into the future, educate the people." She stressed that the health of a society - indeed, the health of this country - is dependent on educated citizens. Healthy societies are optimistic about the future and willing to invest in it. Universities have the tools to make this happen, and the benefits are long lasting. She also noted that in a democracy, education is the vehicle for individual growth and community progress.

Ninety percent of the fastest growing jobs in our country require some college education, she stated. Yet the United States is behind seven countries in the percentage of young adults (aged 25-34) with a college degree.

As the guardians and providers of accessible and affordable higher education (and thus the guarantors of a community's prosperous future), public universities must do more to reach out and ensure that everyone who wants a higher education has the opportunity to earn one, President Bataille asserted. Students in affluent districts, charter schools, and small, well-funded schools are familiar with SAT scores, AP courses, and the importance of GPAs. They and their families know how to fill out FAFSA. But not all students and their families know how to get into college, and even the best educated parents can underestimate the cost of college.

It is incumbent on all of us to recognize the barriers we erect that hinder individual and economic growth, she said. Many dental and medical schools have summer enrichment programs and postbaccalaureate programs, such as Baylor College of Dentistry. Many UNT students have taken advantage of these programs and benefited from them. Texas A&M University and Baylor College of Dentistry are very supportive of predental students; UNT also benefits from excellent working relationships with the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Dental Branch and the University of Texas Health Science Center at the San Antonio Dental School.

President Bataille pointed out that partnerships are critical to providing opportunities for students who may not have considered dental school. Strong relationships with community colleges will help demonstrate a clear curricular path to success in dentistry. UNT is working on an memorandum of understanding (MOU) for a joint early admittance program with the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio Dental School. UNT also has an agreement with Baylor College of Dentistry's postbaccalaureate program, where students chosen for the program from throughout the United States (although mostly from Texas) attend either school to complete 30 hours of additional coursework in biology and the social sciences. They also complete the DAT and additional coursework at Baylor. Eight of the 16 students this year chose to complete their work at UNT. This project has been going on for six years, and is one more way four-year institutions without dental schools can work with professional schools to make a difference.

Another area of concern is educating young people of the rewards of service and small-town life, she said. Dental students often leave school with a large debt load and, even if they want to practice in an underserved area, they may feel compelled to practice where cosmetic dentistry and braces are more common than basic care. This speaks to the need for more support for students willing to practice in high-need areas.

We know that students leave college and professional school with high debt because public education is no longer financed the way it once was, President Bataille pointed out. In 1970, higher education in Texas received 55.7% of annual state appropriations. In 2005, that percentage dropped to 16.15, and in 2008 the percentage is down to 14. Every public university has had to find ways to meet its financial requirements. Increasingly, public institutions must reconsider the roles of state funding, tuition, grants, and gifts.

There are practical reasons to improve the quality of education and expand access, she continued. The American Council on Education's (ACE) research shows that increasing the country's average level of schooling by one year could increase economic growth by six to 15 percent, adding between $600 billion and $1.5 trillion to U.S. economic output. These are powerful data that speak to the importance of addressing education at all levels, from elementary school to professional programs.

We must remove the disparities in the oral health of our population, address the shortage of dental school faculty, increase the number of minority providers, and draw dentists to practice in rural and underserved communities, President Bataille concluded. Former ADEA President James Q. Swift addressed the nation's needs in testimony before the U.S. Senate in February, and his voice is an important one for higher education to hear.

The University of North Texas stands ready to partner with you. Like many universities without dental schools, we can be a pipeline—and we are ready to expand that mission. It is one way for us to demonstrate the value of education in creating a more prosperous future, not just in higher lifetime earnings for our students but in creating a better world in which to live.

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