Dr. Eickhoff’s impact on education

Dr. Eickhoff’s impact on education

Delany, Don

In the past dozen years, Trenton State College has won recognition as one of the finest institutions of higher education the country. For six consecutive years, US News and World Report has included TSC in its annual survey of “America’s Best Colleges.” Money Magazine for four years running has featured the Mercer County college among one of the top schools in its guide to the nation’s “Best College Buys.”

In the 1993 and 1994 editions of The Fiske Guide to Colleges, compiled by Edward B. Fiske, former education editor of New York Times, Trenton State was cited as one of 10 public colleges across the country offering an excellent and affordable liberal arts education.

TSC is rated as highly competitive in Barron’s Profiles American Colleges, which placed it among the top six percent of the 1,500 U.S. schools ranked for competitiveness. Most recently, the college was featured in The Best 100 Colleges for African-American Students, published by Plume, a division of Penguin Books.

All of these accolades have come during the regime of Dr. Harold W. Eickhoff as president of the college. When he took over as president on January 1, 1980, Dr. Eickhoff brought with him a vision of what a college should be, one which has not only transformed Trenton State but has had a profound impact on education in general in the cities of New Jersey.

Edward F. Meara, president of the Mercer County Chamber of Commerce, noted that Dr. Eickhoff’s dedicated involvement in fostering educational excellence at the local level was one of the reasons the educator has been chosen as the Chamber’s “Citizen of the Year” for 1993.

Dr. Eickhoff will be honored during the 124th Annual Dinner Meeting of the Chamber on Tuesday, Feb. 22 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in West Windsor. Gov. Christie Todd Whitman will be the featured speaker.

“Dr. Eickhoff has been recognized as one of the top educators in the state, and in the country,” Meara declared. “He has brought a lot of recognition to this area by his accomplishments at Trenton State.

“But not only has he contributed in the field of higher education, he has been extremely active in the community. He has worked very closely with the Chamber in our education policies in urban areas, where he has used his vast experience to give us guidance, particularly with respect to the educational crisis in the city. Generally he has been a person who has been there when the community needs him.

“We certainly all think he is an outstanding choice for ‘Citizen of the Year’ award.”

Dr. Eickhoff explains his commitment to improving education in the cities by pointing to the fact that teaching graduates of colleges often go directly into the inner-city schools. Some 10 to 17 percent of TSC’s 5,000 full-time undergraduate students are enrolled in the college’s teacher preparation program.

The college has a deep interest in preparing its students to become highly effective teachers in the inner-city environment, he explained. “That means we must have linkages with those schools,” he said. “And we have those linkages through the locations where the students go to do their practice-teaching, while they are still students here. Those linkages will be strengthened now through our new dean of education, so that we will be able to help the schools that have specific areas of need. We are prepared to address those needs, and we are working with the schools through a partnership arrangement.” Dr. Eickhoff says Trenton State’s prestigious reputation throughout the country has resulted in great part from a change in the makeup of the student body.

“We set out deliberately to attract New Jersey’s finest students to the college,” he said. When he took over as president in 1980, he noted, the average high school rank of students enrolling at Trenton State was the 76th percentile, and their combined SAT scores was about 920. “Today,” he said, “the SAT scores are around 1,120–and this is a bigger story than the SAT scores–they are in the 90th percentile.”

The college set out to persuade the state’s best students that if they came to TSC, “we had a very good education to offer them, and if they finished their degrees here, there was every likelihood they would stay in New Jersey to take their jobs and to help the state to a brighter future.

“That is what the college is all about. If you go back to the original charter by which the Legislature established Trenton State in 1855, our mission is to serve the citizens of the state. And we feel we can serve best by attracting outstanding talent to the college, and educate them well so they can assume positions, often leadership positions in New Jersey’s future.”

The students now enrolling at the college are achievers, Dr. Eickhoff said. “They are students who stand out among their peers in high school as the ones who have used their talents to achieve at the highest level.”

Obviously, the Eickhoff message has gotten through to the state’s brightest students, since they are choosing TSC over other institutions which want them just as badly.

Dr. Eickhoff credits the college’s staff in large part for its success in attracting the cream of the high school academic crop.

“We have a tradition, a rich blessing, of a faculty that cares about students” he said. “I know this sounds cliched, but our faculty members really care whether the students learn, and they work close with the students.

“When we talk to students about coming to TSC, they ask ‘Why should I come?,’ he continued. “We say, ‘come to the college and you will have qualified professors who will insure that you get a quality education,’ knowing that when they come the faculty will deliver on that. It’s a wonderful asset.”

Interestingly, despite the tremendous growth, new construction and progress on the college’s 250-acre campus on Pennington Road, the enrollment today is slightly smaller than it was when Dr. Eickhoff assumed the presidency. “Our philosophy has been that the growth of the college should be in quality rather than in numbers,” Dr. Eickhoff said. “We believe that a college this size can do a better job with the students than if we had an enrollment of, say 9,000.”

The faculty numbers are also slightly lower, he added. The curriculum has varied little through the years.

About 50 percent of the student body is enrolled in the arts and science curriculum. Once primarily a teacher preparation institution, the college now also has a strong school of business. What was a division of nursing in 1980 is now a school of nursing, and beginning this fall its school of technology is offering a degree in engineering science, as opposed to one in engineering technology. “That is a very significant change for us,” Dr. Eickhoff said.

“We want to strengthen our curriculum,” he continued. “We want to expand with respect to our students’ involvement in the community at large, not just the college community but outside the college in community service projects. We do a great deal of that now but we want to go farther. I also hope we can expand in the field of international exchange, because I feel our students should be educated so that they can be well prepared to take their careers in the international marketplace. That’s where the action is now and where it will expand dramatically in the future.

Before coming to Trenton State, Dr. Eickhoff was vice president for academic affairs and professor of history at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas. He is a native of Natoma in that state, and he says he cannot remember a time when he was not interested in being part of the field of education. “I knew that my future was in some kind of public service, and teaching always had high appeal for me” he said.

He earned a degree in history and his master’s in history and government from the University of. Kansas City. His doctorate in history was received from the University of Missouri. He spent almost a decade at the University of Missouri-St.-Louis as assistant professor of history, chairman of the social sciences division, assistant dean of faculties and dean of student affairs.

He then became in 1969 executive assistant to the president, secretary to the board of visitors and professor of history at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., and later executive vice president there for two years before taking the position at Fort Hays University.

In 1988 Dr. Eickhoff was named by the Governor a recipient of the Albert Einstein Education Award, for major contributions to higher education. In 1991 he received the New Jersey Pride Award for his accomplishments in his field, and last year Junior Achievement of Central New Jersey honored him with induction into its Business Hall of Fame, citing his record of service to higher education.

On the national level, he was elected recently as chair of the board of the Association of American Colleges, headquartered in Washington, D.C. From 1986 to 1988 he was secretary to the executive committee of the American Council on Education. In 1985 he was one of 20 educational and political leaders throughout the country named to a panel of the Education Commission of the States.

He presently serves on the Committee on Policies and Purposes of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and is a member of the Board of Overseers of the Governor’s School of New Jersey.

He is a member of the boards of directors of the Mercer Chamber of Commerce, Mercer Medical Center, the Association of American Colleges, and on the board of trustees of the Pennington School and the National Commission for Cooperative Education.

He resides in Pennington with his wife, Rosa Lee. They have two daughters, Sharon Lee Italiano, a 1983 graduate of Trenton State who has worked for New Jersey Bell since graduation and who recently took a new position at the firm’s corporate headquarters, and Janet Lee Eickhoff, who has an undergraduate degree in journalism and who is finishing work for a master’s degree in public policy at Rutgers University. They have a 7-month-old granddaughter.

Copyright Mercer County Chamber of Commerce Feb 1994

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