Pressured to prepare graduates for the workforce, America’s higher education system must not forget its civic and democratic mission, asserts A Crucible Moment, a report released today by U.S. Department of Education and the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Too few graduates are prepared to be active citizens of a democracy, writes Carol Geary Schneider, president of the AAC&U, in a guest post on College Inc.
American colleges and universities—and yes, our community colleges too—were created first and foremost to ensure the future of our democracy.
Concerned about global competition, “many public leaders now are actively promoting witheringly reductive versions of college learning” that treat ”history, world cultures, anthropology, philosophy, literature and the other humanities” as an “unaffordable luxury,” Schneider writes.
. . . with short-term certificates, for-profit trade schools and pared-down degree programs now widely touted as models of admirable efficiency, we are far down the path toward creating a two-tiered system in which some students still get a horizon-expanding and civic-minded liberal education, while too many others receive narrow training that is palpably indifferent either to any responsibility for democracy or to the needs of a vibrant economy.
A national forum today, “For Democracy’s Future: Education Reclaims Its Civic Mission,” will push back against the focus on college as workforce preparation only.
College majors—including those that prepare students directly for jobs—need to play their own part in teaching students how their chosen fields intersect with a democratic society.
. . . Those preparing for careers in science, health, engineering, education, public service, business, accounting and the trades all need practical experience in examining the kind of public questions with which every field inevitably wrestles. Today’s students need—both for democracy and the economy—not just to analyze issues, but to work together with others from different backgrounds in finding achievable solutions to actively contested questions.
Miami Dade College, which educates more than 150,000 largely first-generation students, has made civic responsibility a degree requirement, Schneider writes. Some universities now require public service or projects that benefit the community.
A Crucible Moment calls for expanding campus-community partnerships, so students can tackle real problems in their communities.
“We do not have to jettison our commitment to civic learning in order to prepare students for success in the knowledge economy,” Schneider writes.