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Ex-Oklahoman wants to reform nation's schools

By Susan Simpson Published: March 2, 2008
As president of Pepperdine University, Andrew Benton oversees a beautiful campus overlooking the Pacific Ocean. But as board chairman of the American Council on Education (ACE), he's set his sights on advocating for higher education across the nation.

Benton, a former Oklahoman, was named to the post last month and will advocate for the council's member institutions to influence federal and state policies and public opinion.

"The great thing about ACE is that it's the convening organization for all of higher education,” he said. "It's a great opportunity to all get together under one tent.”

While Benton is president of a church-affiliated private college, the American Council on Education's membership also includes public schools large and small, private universities of all sizes, community colleges and Ivy League institutions.

A native Kansan, Benton earned his college degrees in Oklahoma in the 1970s. He earned his bachelor's degree at Oklahoma Christian University, where he met his wife, Debby. He then gained a law degree from Oklahoma City University and practiced as an attorney here for four years before joining Pepperdine as an administrator in 1984.

He became Pepperdine's president in 2000.

Like Oklahoma Christian, Pepperdine is affiliated with the Churches of Christ.

Benton said his ties to Oklahoma remain strong, and he hopes to live here again someday.

Are mandates distracting?
Benton said one of the biggest threats to the nation's colleges and universities — long regarded the best in the world — is over-regulation and one-size-fits-all rules.

He said House and Senate bills to reauthorize the Higher Education Act include hundreds of new reporting requirements that would distract colleges from their core missions of providing accessible and affordable education.

"It goes back to how do you define success? It's not always about metrics; sometimes it has to do with matters of the heart,” he said.

Benton said he was concerned about congressional proposals mandating that universities spend at least 5 percent of their endowments each year and report all endowment spending to the Education Department.

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