3 questions with … David Ponitz

When it comes to higher education in the Dayton area, David Ponitz isn’t the retiring type.

Just last week, Ponitz, who served as president of Sinclair Community College from 1975 to 1997, was traveling in his work for the Midwestern Higher Education Compact, a consortium of Midwestern colleges and educators who share and develop best practices and ways to cut costs in the realm of higher education.

The Washington Twp. resident also has deep ties to business, being known for developing relationships with key companies while at Sinclair’s helm. He was a founding member of the Miami Valley Research Park in eastern Kettering and linked Sinclair to General Motors, AT&T, Mead Corp. (and other companies) with corporate training contracts. Sinclair’s ties to business remain important to the college.

Under Ponitz, Sinclair grew from an enrollment to more than 20,000 from 7,500 students.

We caught up with Ponitz recently for a trio of questions on what he’s doing and what he’s thinking about. This is an edited transcript.

Q: You were traveling last week on business with the Midwestern Higher Education Compact. What does the compact do and what’s your role?

A: "The compact is a group of 12 Midwestern states with people who are involved in higher education… I was a commissioner appointed by the governor. I'm now kind of a substitute.

“They’re involved in a couple of things. One, they’re involved in doing all kinds of things with savings and costs, trying to keep costs at universities down. … They’re also involved in looking at how each state is doing, how they can cooperate, how they can share ideas. And they get together several times a year, but they have all kinds of research going on.

“They’re an important group and their research has been very helpful.”

Q: We’re engaged in a debate, for lack of a better word, about whether college is a worthwhile investment, given the apparent lack of good jobs for graduates and the escalating costs for college. What’s your take?

A: "It's out of reach for a number of students because of huge debts. And one of the reasons why is that for the past eight to ten years, state funding has gone down pretty dramatically for higher education. That has caused tuition to go up. Tuition has gone up in many places — not at Sinclair, but at many places — beyond inflation.

“Having said that, there was a story in the New York Times… about a research report that indicated that No. 1, you’re less likely to be unemployed if you have a degree or certificate, and you make a lot more money. So between those two, I think college is still very important.

“Having said that, there are differences. You gotta know something that somebody else doesn’t know. And liberal arts colleges are having some problems because simply, as I say, writing about the beauty of the daffodils in the spring doesn’t get you a job — well, except your job.

“But having a technical skill. That’s why STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs, with science and engineering and math and technology are so key. And we need to understand those jobs are there.”

Q: What are you reading these days?

A: "I listen to all the books that I'm reading … I was very interested in reading Gates' book, Duty (Robert M. Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, Deckle Edge). It's a really good read, in terms of what he said. After he served four-and-a-half years, he left. And he said one of the reasons that he left is that he spent so much time trying to be helpful to the GIs in the service — I don't know if you served; I served in the Korean War — and working on the death issue was too much, the deaths of soldiers."

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