Importance of Education
Purposes of Education
Role of Public Policy
Challenges Facing Higher Education
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The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education

We have formed the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education to increase opportunity in America. That is why I am here talking with you today. The Center is supported by a consortium of national foundations. Its core value is that higher education is a priceless national resource. Its core operating principle is to look at higher education in terms of the broad public interest of this nation, of our states, of our people. And its core mission is to inspire a large and inclusive conversation about how higher education can address that public interest, a conversation that includes you, all of our higher education community, our governors and legislators, and our civic, business and local political leaders - because the future of colleges and universities is everybody’s business.

The Center begins its work by asking five sets of questions that I suspect you have asked. If you haven’t I hope you will.

  1. How can we assure opportunities for education and training beyond high school for the next generation of Americans? We need to think about that. We need to worry about it.

  2. How can we improve education’s success as well as access? That is, how can we assure that students are effective learners once they come to our colleges? They’ve done all the work so they’re eligible to attend. How do we help ensure their success?

  3. How can we assure that higher education is a countervailing force to - and not a support structure for - what many now see as an increasing bipolar distribution of wealth, income and opportunity in America?

  4. How can we do all this while keeping higher education affordable for America’s families and for its taxpayers?

  5. How can we assure high school students that their and their families’ hard work will be rewarded by college opportunity? How do we give that assurance to all the people in this country? How do we make real the commitment that supporting, offering and mastering a rigorous curriculum will lead to college opportunity regardless of a family’s financial resources? How can we assure that our teaching programs fully prepare teachers to help students master that curriculum?

The theme underlying all of these questions is, of course, opportunity. The doors to higher education are not swinging open as much as they should, and we are not graduating as many students as we should. Let me give you an analogy. We are opening the doors in early childhood education. We have them wide open in K–12 public schools, though our challenge there is to make the quality of education better. But how do we swing the doors open in higher education? We ought to have a passion to do that.

Getting a College Education Is More Important than Ever

Let me share some findings very quickly from a survey that the Public Agenda agency did for the Center. The survey, which was released last week, found that more than half of Americans believe that getting a college education in the next decade will be more difficult than it is today. It ought to be the other way around; it ought to be getting easier. And people ought to sense that we’re moving toward that.

The survey also showed that people know how important higher education is. In overwhelming numbers, Americans believe that high school graduates should go on to college even if they have a good job offer when they graduate. That finding is important. It ought to make you as educators proud, for it means that people value the education you provide.

The survey also showed that Americans believe:

  • that their states need more college graduates in order to be successful economically;
  • that no student who is qualified and motivated to attend college should be prevented from enrolling because of price;
  • that policies that limit the number of people who have access to college are unacceptable;
  • that we ought to have approaches that help more people enroll and do well;
  • that in 1998, right now, students and families are doing about all they can to pay for college; and
  • that additional price increases at this time are a bad idea.

One of the public policy issues that we should address - and I know this is sensitive with all families who want to see their young people and their adults reach their potentials - is how much should tuition be increased? How much financial debt should students and their families be expected to take on? Even with the new initiatives to help them borrow earlier and over a longer period of time, how much is too much for individuals to pay for colleges and universities?


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© 1998 The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education

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