Washington, D.C., Feb. 13, 2013—In President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address last night, he re-issued the call for all Americans to attain some postsecondary education beyond high school. The President said, “It’s a simple fact: The more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job and work your way into the middle class.” He rightly noted that increasing the educational attainment of Americans benefits not just the individual, but society as a whole—in the form of broad economic and social gains that lead to improvements that strengthen our democracy and leadership in the world.
Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) President Michelle Asha Cooper, Ph.D., issued a statement in response to President Obama’s prominent focus on higher education and his Administration’s steps toward achieving these goals:
“The President’s speech comes at a moment when the country is grappling with the aims of higher education for the 21st century. Increasingly, there are calls for redesign—redesign of teaching and learning, redesign of institutional financing, and redesign of financial aid. Public perception of these issues has also been elevated. A recent Gallup/Lumina Foundation poll of Americans found that:
- 97 percent say that a postsecondary degree or credential is important
- 74 percent say college is unaffordable
- 27 percent say that the quality of higher education is worse today than it was in the past
Taken together, these facts reveal that while Americans believe postsecondary education and occupational skills training are important, they are confounded by the necessity of college and how much it costs. At the same time, there are growing concerns about quality, leading the public to question whether they are getting less while paying more for college. These findings are quite instructive—if we pay attention. In essence, the public has outlined the elements of postsecondary redesign for us—a focus on outcomes, quality, and costs. Now, the President has taken the lead by prioritizing college affordability and quality in his second term. But are we ready to act?
To reach our collective goals, higher education must better serve all Americans, but it absolutely must be a viable solution to those for whom opportunity has been unequal or even nonexistent. To that end, we must make “wise investments” in the communities and institutions that need them most. We must make investments in our elementary and secondary schools so that “none of our children start the race of life already behind.” We must invest in our community and technical colleges so that dislocated workers can get the training and education they need to remain relevant in the workforce. We must ensure that our collective investments in higher education—at all levels and across all sectors—help students leave college with more than just debt, but rather as graduates who have earned high quality degrees or credentials that put them on a path toward financial stability. And, lastly, we must invest in the millions of children raised by undocumented parents and educated in U.S. public schools so that they have the opportunity to pursue the American Dream.
Everyone knows that if you want different outcomes, you have to try different approaches. Same is the case for higher education. It is true that we are making progress on all of these fronts; but progress is slow and incremental. We need to intensify our efforts and take initiative toward improving student outcomes, enhancing degree quality, and reducing college costs. And there is no better time to start than the present!”
For more information about IHEP, visit the organization’s website at www.ihep.org.