NEVER HAS AMERICA required so many of its citizens to know so much. Never have employers sought such a broadly trained — and retrained — workforce. Never has technology transformed so rapidly and so thoroughly how Americans live and work. Never before has education after high school played such a crucial role in enabling an individual to enter the middle class. And never before has a society expected so much from its system of higher education.

Fortunately, the United States has some of the best colleges and universities — both public and private — in the world. But the more significant truth for larger numbers of Americans is that opportunity to pursue a quality education is still unevenly, often inequitably, distributed. For instance, the country and many states can and must do better in ensuring that high school graduates are prepared for college, that all qualified Americans have educational and training opportunities, and that more students complete their studies in a timely way.

In an age when our democracy and economy require Americans to attain higher and higher skills, every qualified American who aspires to college — no matter where he lives or what her income — should have the opportunity to pursue and achieve high-quality education and training beyond high school.