Lumina held events at both the 2012 Republican and Democrat National Conventions, providing a unique opportunity to brief key partners in states and communities. Our goal was to create a space to discuss higher education as a “trans-partisan” topic—the benefits provided to individuals and society through higher education attainment, and the consequences of falling short of Goal 2025, are not Republican or Democratic issues. They are American issues, and will require all of us coming together to ensure college access and success for millions more Americans.
Our Convention events were built around the recent release of “The College Advantage” by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. At each event, a panel representing key stakeholder groups in the college attainment agenda—higher education institutions, state policy leadership, students, and the business community—responded to the issues addressed in the report. To the extent we could, the same people served on both panels, providing a consistent message at both the RNC and DNC. The message was all about how people with varying levels of postsecondary attainment had fared during the recession and recovery. This new information not only disputes the persistent media stories asking whether college is “worth it,” but puts a fine point on just how “worth it” college actually is. During the Great Recession, the economy actually added jobs for college graduates, while jobs for those without postsecondary education plummeted, during the recession and in recovery.
Panelists were also quick to point out that the benefits of higher education are not just limited to the economy and jobs. Higher education is a public good—it expands opportunity for individuals and society, contributing positively to civic engagement, health, and family stability, while decreasing reliance on public support. Higher education attainment, taken broadly, is the solution to a vast number of social and economic problems, and the attainment agenda needs to be a high national, state and local priority.
“When we look for the jobs for high school grads and below, we’re looking in the rearview mirror. The jobs ahead of us are for college grads.”–Anthony Carnevale, Director, Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, 9-4-2012
Our panelists also noted that higher education attainment is a complex issue, and will require tremendous change within institutions of higher education, within families and communities, and within state houses and the Capitol. Yet, unanimously, these panelists, representing leadership at all levels, expressed the urgency Goal 2025 demands, and urged those in the audience to become leaders in their own fields and communities.
“Instead of teaching content, we need to teach people. There’s a difference.” -Dr. Charlie Nelms, Chancellor Emeritus, North Carolina Central University
As a unifying theme, panelists at both Conventions framed higher education as an investment in the future of our country, states and communities. It can be easy to look to the past to take our cues in how we’ve invested in and talked about higher education, but Goal 2025 requires that we shift this conversation to talk about the future: what do we need and how do we get there, to ensure that America’s most valuable natural resource, its people, are equipped to fill 21st century jobs and contribute to a more vibrant, just society.