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A Stronger Nation and the Talent that Will Make It Happen

Reflections on 2016 and the Year Ahead

Lumina Foundation recently released a strategic plan that charts a course for our work over the next four years. The plan focuses on how we can ensure a brighter future by building our nation’s pool of talent while ensuring fairer educational results for many students who are poorly served. It articulates a vision for remaking the nation’s approach so that millions more people from all backgrounds can secure the advantages of high-quality learning beyond high school.

Only a few weeks after the plan’s release, more than 100 million people voted in national, state, and local elections. They cast ballots after one of the most rancorous and divisive presidential campaigns in the nation’s history. After votes were tallied, many of us were left wondering what the future holds.

The campaign made painfully clear that a significant number of Americans feel so disaffected and left out they have come to doubt our entire way of doing things. They doubt our government. They doubt the value of public engagement. And they doubt the integrity of institutions of every type. They are losing faith in the American narrative of opportunity for all. Too many Americans believe their leaders and elites of every sort have left them behind. For these reasons, Lumina has sharpened its focus on promoting meaningful opportunity for every American to participate fully—and to flourish—in our society. We believe strongly that expanding access to meaningful learning experiences is the best route to opening opportunities that can help restore faith in America’s future.

Disturbingly, we also witnessed an escalation in bigotry and hateful acts motivated by racial, ethnic, gender identity, or religious differences. Leaders across all social, economic, political, and educational institutions are obligated to forcefully condemn such intolerance. We also are called to work to bring the country and local communities together to advance an inclusive vision of the future.

As we pivot from the campaign to the realities of governance and of democratic engagement in our home communities, we must renew our commitment to the values that make American democracy work. At the same time, we must be mindful of the challenges we face in keeping our democratic society vibrant. Lumina’s new strategic plan focuses on building the strong networks within and across communities and organizations that will help us meet these challenges. Our work will engage communities throughout the country—including communities whose residents have been neglected, ignored, or left behind in today’s competitive global economy.

Leaders of public-spirited, equity-minded institutions across every sector—whether in government, communities, philanthropy, or education—have a special obligation to clearly articulate and act on shared values. We must help heal our communities so our nation can continue to move forward. As leaders, we must stand up for the most vulnerable among us, denouncing hatred and discrimination in all its ugly forms.

We simply cannot survive as a democracy if we do not build shared commitment to fairness, inclusion, and meaningful opportunity for all.

Lumina’s Leadership Role

Our future depends on a vibrant economy, with good jobs and fair wages, as well as on democratic processes and governance that work for everyone’s benefit. Increasing every American’s access to meaningful educational opportunity is critical to achieving these objectives. Our plan argues that mere tinkering isn’t enough. We must create entire new systems and approaches to cultivating talent that increase the number of working-age people in the United States with college degrees, certificates, and other valuable postsecondary credentials.

We know—and many disconnected Americans also know—that few people in today’s economy can expect to build and maintain a middle-class lifestyle without some sort of marketable, post-high school credential. With nearly all new jobs going to people with such credentials—that is, 11.5 million of the 11.6 million jobs created since the end of the recent recession—we must confront the fact that post-high school learning isn’t just “nice to have,” it’s a “gotta have.” People who earn these credentials do better economically. They live healthier and longer. They are more deeply engaged in civic and community life. To restore optimism, we must commit ourselves to ensuring that people from all levels of society have opportunities to develop or hone their knowledge, skills, and abilities. We imagine a future in which people work with each other to build vibrant, resilient communities—communities in which every person contributes and every person feels valued.

After years of work with partners across the country, those of us at Lumina have learned a lot more about how to create pathways to these kinds of learning opportunities. We know how to build community networks and the kinds of supportive environments in which learners of all ages and backgrounds can flourish. Equity and inclusion are essential ingredients. We cannot achieve our shared goals as a nation if large swaths of the population—non-whites, religious minorities, immigrants, the rural working poor—are left out.

Lumina’s mission is grounded in a fundamental belief that the diversity and inclusive nature of our society is one of the nation’s core strengths. The research is clear. Organizations and communities that are more diverse come up with better solutions to complex challenges. Our nation’s diversity is the source of our social and economic strength.

We collaborate with willing partners to expand opportunity and ensure fairer educational outcomes for students from all backgrounds and will continue to work with people and organizations across ideological and political spectrums. But we need help in the current environment to reach a national goal of ensuring that at least 60 percent of working-age people have college degrees, certificates, or other quality credentials within the next eight years. We call this Goal 2025.

It’s clear that our communities, workplaces, and educational institutions have much to do to create environments in which everyone—regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, age, or income level—can succeed. We cannot create a better-educated society if people on the margins—including those who are non-white, religious minorities, immigrants, and the rural working poor—are living, working, and learning in fear.

We cannot motivate people—young or old—to pursue learning opportunities beyond high school if they do not see clear, welcoming paths to prosperous, safe, and secure lives. That’s why we at Lumina are calling on Americans to work together to reverse the effects of incidents that have characterized the presidential campaign and post-election season.

To have the kind of country we want, the kind of country we need, we must first call on committed and courageous leaders. Then, together, we must work to directly address the personal fears and insecurities that make it difficult for people to learn and grow in ways that enable them to find good jobs, care for their families, and participate fully in their communities and our shared society.

Kate Snedeker

A series of reports show investing in employee tuition reimbursement yields significant financial payback.
See Talent Investment series