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Larry Large '64
Larry Large '64

Portland State University alumnus Larry Large (’64), who served as President of Oglethorpe University (Atlanta, Ga.), President of Sierra Nevada College and Interim President of Willamette University, as well as Vice Chancellor for the Oregon University System, Vice President of University of Oregon and President of the Oregon Alliance of Independent Colleges and Universities (the Alliance), did not intend to lead a long and distinguished career in higher education administration. He originally thought he would become a lawyer. However, through his involvement in student government at PSU, including becoming student body president, and working in administrative offices while a grad student at University of Oregon, his true career path began to emerge. More than 50 years after graduating from PSU, Large still works as an independent consultant to universities around the nation, providing expertise in strategic planning and development.

As a first-generation college student, Large experienced first-hand the transformative effects that higher education has on the trajectory of a person’s life. He describes an epiphany he had as a grade school student in Molalla, living in a motel for six years with his family as his father followed millwork and logging jobs. At school, he saw the difference in the lives of children who worked hard to be good students and whose parents were college educated with careers that required a college degree and were not living in a converted motel. At that young age, Large made the connection that changing one’s circumstances required a good education.

Large graduated from Gresham High School in 1958, then joined the Army, where he served in active duty for six months and in reserves for six years. Before attending Portland State University in Fall 1959, Large worked with his father at an aluminum plant in Troutdale.

“When I told my dad I was going to college, he thought I was crazy. He could not understand why I wanted to go to college—in his mind I already had a good job. Why would I need to go to college?”

But the decision Large made as a grade schooler stuck. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1964, and went on to earn a master’s and PhD.

Large chose PSU for its proximity, price and flexible schedule. He worked part-time as a bus driver for the Gresham School District, and PSU’s schedule, which included night classes, was accommodating. As a member of student government and student body president in 1963-1964, Large advocated strongly for the fair and equal funding of PSU (then Portland State College) from the state, citing the strong connection and positive effect that Portland State had with the city. Large still believes this is what makes PSU so essential to Portland and beyond.

Large continued on at University of Oregon, earning a master’s, then completing his PhD in 1974. While at UO, he served as Associate Dean of Students and Director of Financial Aid. In addition to his tenures as Acting President of Willamette University (1978 and 2010), President of Oglethorpe University (1998-2005) and Interim President of Sierra Nevada College (2006-2008), he has worked in both faculty and other administration leadership roles at Willamette University and Reed College, where he served as Executive Vice President. Large continues to consult, write and speak on educational policy, and be a tireless advocate for access to higher education for those who work hard and for whom the college experience is not a given.

“Being able to attend PSU, because of its accessibility and the ability to work part-time, transformed my life,” says Large. As a result, he does not take higher education for granted and has spent the last 50 years helping transform the lives of countless other students and higher education institutions in Oregon and around the world.