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A Year for the History Books

What an exciting and traumatic year 2008 has been. A historic presidential campaign that ended with the election of an African-American to the U.S. presidency. An economic meltdown not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

As a new year rapidly approaches, we find ourselves collectively trying to grasp the meaning of the former and endure the impact of the latter. Our writers offer some help with their insightful perspectives on the American landscape as we head into the final year of the first decade of this century.

Our ongoing coverage of the economy’s battering of U.S. colleges and universities takes us to Michigan, where high unemployment and the financial meltdown of the Big Three automakers have resulted in a dramatic enrollment drop at one of the nation’s top urban universities.

Despite talks of a recession all year, Wayne State University officials had reasons to be optimistic about this academic year: applications were up; so were admits. But an astounding 5 percent of students failed to show up this fall, and officials immediately went to work to reverse the trend, reports Reginald Stuart in “Wayne State University Facing Tough, New Tests.” While addressing its enrollment slide, Wayne State also plans to supply the city of Detroit with academics and experts who can help the city find its way out of its financial and political abyss.

The economy is also expected to temper some of President-elect Barack Obama’s education plans, including his campaign promise to make higher education more affordable. Still, many education advocates have high hopes for the new president, just as they did for President George W. Bush.

As Obama picks up the education mantel, he has an opportunity to succeed where education advocates say Bush fell short. Obama could, for starters, follow through on plans to simplify application for federal financial aid. In “Bush to Obama: Education in Transition,” we look at Bush’s education record, including the impact of his signature No Child Left Behind policy, the unfinished work recommended by the Spellings Commission on the Future of Higher Education and how minority-serving institutions fared under his administration.

Reported by veteran journalists Charles Dervarics, Karen Branch-Brioso, Tracie Powell and Ronald Roach, this comprehensive report also details what to expect from the incoming administration. In this, the last edition of the year, Diverse’s “2008: A Year in Review” recounts the year’s top stories to touch diversity and higher education, including David Paterson becoming the first Black governor of New York to Colorado becoming the first state to vote down an anti-affirmative action ban.

The historic social, political and economic events of 2008 promise to shape our nation for many years to come. We have reason to enter 2009 with guarded optimism. To start, we must commit ourselves to making the next year better than this one.

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