For a new learning system to become a reality in the United States, federal policy must support widespread change that puts the needs of individuals and society first.
The federal government has played a significant role in widening access to education beyond high school. Laws that created public land-grant colleges and expanded education to citizens returning from military service and people from low-income households made it possible for tens of millions of Americans to earn college degrees.
But policies that primarily encourage people to sign up for college are no longer enough to meet the country's needs. More than 36 million adults have some college experience but have stopped out before earning a degree.
The federal government must collaborate with state governments, businesses, community groups, and others to ensure more working-age people succeed. And the definition of success must expand beyond the four-year, on-campus experience to include certificate programs offered through community colleges and industry certifications and other credentials that lead to good jobs and position Americans for further education.
Crafting federal policies that address the country's sprawling, complicated, and diverse system of education beyond high school is challenging. We have several years to reach the national goal of 60 percent of working-age people with college degrees, certificates, and industry certifications by 2025. By focusing on a set of guiding principles, we can get there. These principles, supported by nonpartisan research and analyses, include ensuring:
- Affordable, easy-to-navigate pathways that build people's knowledge, skills, and abilities in clear ways leading to on-time program completion, better jobs, and preparation for further learning.
- Relevant, post-high school learning counts toward a wide array of credentials, regardless of how, when, or where knowledge and skills are acquired, including on the job or in military service.
- Emphases are placed on achieving better educational outcomes among people of color who historically have faced social, political, and economic barriers to success, working-age adults who are increasingly pursuing education beyond high school, students who are the first in their families to go to college, and Americans living in poverty.
- Quality standards are rooted in clear, well-defined learning outcomes that allow colleges, universities, and other education providers to offer people innovative, new learning opportunities.
A shared responsibility
Many actors, including business, community, and education leaders, have roles to play in ensuring the public benefits of a better-educated nation are made manifest through increased civic engagement, economic activity, and political involvement as well as through improved health and welfare among individuals. These groups must work to dismantle a two-tier system that is particularly unfair and unjust toward African-Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians.
To help create a better-educated nation, Lumina's federal policy team will:
- Develop an advocacy corps that engages new voices and storytelling to educate policymakers.
- Offer nonpartisan research and analyses to inform policy development.
- Educate policymakers about the unique needs of adults pursuing their credential beyond a high school diploma or returning to college to finish degree programs.
- Build alliances with the civil rights organizations to work toward racially and economically just policies.
- Define college affordability in ways that help policymakers improve access and completion among people from low-income households.
- Advance options for assuring the quality of post-high school education focused on the rigorous assessment of learning and enabling responsible innovation among providers that better meets the needs of today's students.