You have left the Obama Administration during the president’s second term. What have you ‘been up to’ since then?
I have been most fortunate to return to teaching, research and service at New York University as a distinguished professor of higher education. I hope my students are learning as much from me as I am from them. They are an inspiration to me because of their commitment to opportunity, access and social justice.
They are also aware that colleges and universities have immense challenges ahead, especially to educate students for whom higher education simply would not have been possible years ago. We have vigorous debates and discussions about so many of the challenges facing higher education, both here in the U.S. and globally and I am confident that our nation’s students will be ready to tackle the future challenges of higher education.
Beyond teaching, I have also just begun to lead the nation’s College Promise Campaign to enable millions more students to enter and complete higher education in the years ahead, starting with America’s community colleges.
So you have not left higher education and the field of community colleges behind, but taken on a new role there. What are your ambitions/targets to reach in your new job?
The overriding goal of the College Promise Campaign is to increase both access to higher education and the number of students completing their degrees or certificates. Over the past decade, College Promise programs were started in more than 100 communities and states across our nation.
My role in the Campaign is to bring together diverse sectors of leaders to expand college promise programs for millions more students to have the opportunity to earn a college degree or certificate. We need more Americans to become more highly education. To accomplish this, leaders from education, business, philanthropy, government, labor and students themselves need to understand the importance of going to college, whether it’s for workforce training or achieving a two or four year degree and, for some, an advanced degree.
Our campaign seeks specifically to bring awareness to the public about the value proposition of community colleges and their sister universities – the contributions of higher education to the lifelong prosperity of students, their families, and their communities. A high school education is not enough for success in the 21st century.
Why is this campaign now so relevant and what is the driving idea/force behind this?
The success of our economy and society writ large depends of a more highly educated citizenry. Our campaign will highlight the body of high-quality evidence in support of College Promise programs that make a significant difference in the lives of our students.
The College Promise Campaign is a nonpartisan initiative led by an independent, cross-sector board of national leaders committed to making a community college education accessible to all responsible students. President Obama’s bold proposal for free community college education (America’s College Promise) is just one part of a much larger national conversation taking place. In states like Tennessee and Oregon, cities such as Kalamazoo, Michigan and Long Beach, California, local and state leaders are coming together to deliver the promise of a community college education that will not saddle responsible, hard-working students with burdensome debt.
In the United States, community college campuses are unique. They serve over 40% of our undergraduate students who often come from non-traditional backgrounds. The average age of a community college student is 28. These men and women are parents, military veterans, and first-generation Americans; many are from underprivileged and underrepresented communities. In an economy where a high school education is no longer enough to secure a strong middle-class life, community colleges offer a path forward for millions of Americans and their families.
In building a national movement to spur affordable higher education for all, starting with community colleges, the College Promise Campaign will showcase the characteristics of College Promise programs across the country and highlight the various options for funding and implementation so that more communities and states can adopt what works for them to deliver the College Promise for students in their communities. When a new College Promise program is adopted, students receive an affordable higher education. This is the way to a smarter and better future for our nation.
How will this campaign ‘work’? What kind of programme and agenda is being set up to catch the attention and gather support?
There are three key components to the Campaign’s work: cross-sector leadership development and support, the awareness and grassroots organizing effort we call “Heads Up America,” and sharing widely the body of evidence-based College Promise research to increase college access and success.
First, we assembled a dynamic coalition of cross-sector leaders to advise and guide our efforts. The College Promise Campaign is chaired by Dr. Jill Biden, a longtime community college professor and spouse of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. Dr. Biden is recognized as one of the country’s chief proponents of community colleges. Joining her, former Wyoming and republican governor Jim Geringer serves as our vice-chair, contributing his visionary leadership and expertise in college affordability and completion.
Together, Biden and Geringer oversee a board of national leaders from seven strategic sectors: education, business, philanthropy, non-profit, students, labor, and elected officials. These men and women represent a broad range of support for community college education and the economic and social opportunities those institutions are uniquely positioned to deliver. Board members’ efforts include organizing their respective sectors in support of the Campaign, as well as helping to identify key leadership in our 50 states to advocate for the College Promise.
Second, in addition to building leadership at the national, sector, and state levels, the Campaign seeks to build a national movement for funding community college tuition and fees for responsible students through its advocacy and awareness effort, “Heads Up America.” Three short months after our launch, over 100,000 Americans in all 50 states have pledged their support at www.HeadsUpAmerica.us.
This October, over 80 community college open house and awareness events took place in more than 20 states as part of our National Week of Action. These events demonstrated the value community colleges contribute in towns and cities everywhere.
Finally, a key component of the Campaign’s success is an investment in promoting the new and existing body of high-quality research surrounding Promise programs. To achieve this, the Campaign is convening leading researchers, behavioral economists, and strategic nonprofits, among others to collaborate on issues of program design, financing and financial sustainability, and successful strategies to support students and realize higher levels of achievement which results in completing college certificates and degrees which are keys to greater success in life.
Every community is confronted with its unique challenges and opportunities. By cataloguing the characteristics of College Promise programs, the Campaign can highlight best practices for institutions, communities and states to best finance and implement their own version of the College Promise. While Heads Up America builds support for our mission, our research efforts seek to provide decision-makers with the information and tools they need to actually deliver a universal, funded community college education to their students.
These three components—building a coalition of cross-sector leaders, organizing a grassroots movement, and highlighting best practices for communities and states—allow the Campaign to thoroughly and strategically advance the College Promise on multiple fronts. Through these partnerships and activities, more students will gain access to an affordable education and a brighter future.
Is it a plus or a minus that this campaign is held more or less during a similar timeframe as the primaries and Presidential election? Will they interfere or give it more impetus?
We are pleased to see a growing number of leaders explore and support opportunities for an affordable higher education, starting with community colleges. As the College Promise Campaign is a non-partisan initiative and part of the non-profit organization, Civic Nation, we are independent from the upcoming elections.
Therefore, while we are not involved in the ongoing presidential and state elections, we applaud serious efforts to diminish the heavy financial burden our students carry and glad to see the value of the College Promise starting, but not limited to community colleges, become a topic for national discussion.
What is the short term, midterm and the long term goal and how will you strive to achieve this?
In the short-term we will help our sector-based and state leadership teams become strong and impactful. These diverse coalitions of top-level support will seek to implement College Promise programs through legislation, public-private partnerships, and/or philanthropic investments.
Our mid-term plans include an expansion of our national public awareness campaign, Heads Up America, including social/paid/and earned media in order to draw widespread attention and support to this movement. Our field-building will continue through roundtable discussions and campus events designed to highlight key issues and particular student groups, such as veterans and first-generation students. We will also continue disseminating College Promise best-practice models, and host research events with key stakeholders to illustrate the effectiveness of the College Promise.
Our overarching and long-term goal remains the implementation and expansion of College Promise programs that will cover tuition and fees for all responsible community college students, and encourage wider expansion where we have the opportunity. Accessibility, affordability, and completion must be priorities in any plan.
We will monitor existing and emerging programs and emphasize success stories in order to demonstrate how funding community college costs is actually an investment in America’s future.
Who are the key supporters? And who are the ones you probably will have to convince the hardest to agree and act?
Like the students community colleges serve, our supporters come from all backgrounds. So far – and we’ve only finished the first quarter of operation, over 100,000 individuals from all 50 states have pledged their support at www.HeadsUpAmerica.us.
Our board is chaired by Dr. Biden, a community college professor, and Governor Geringer, a lifelong advocate for affordable education. The Campaign’s board members represent cross-sector support for community colleges and include key leaders such as Bill Swanson, the former CEO and Chairman of Raytheon who is a community college alumnus. Also represented on our board are organizations such as the Carnegie Foundation, United Way Global Worldwide, and DOW Chemical joined by other institutions exemplifying our seven key sectors: business, philanthropy, students, government, education, labor, and non-profits.
Leveraging these instrumental sectors will be key to our success. Support for community college affordability and accessibility is a nonpartisan effort. We’ve seen Republicans like Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Democrats such as Governor Kate Brown of Oregon champion the College Promise in their respective states.
Smart ideas for economic opportunity and social cohesion know no boundaries. We are glad to see people of all political perspectives work together to build a clear path for student success. Critics are often concerned the College Promise represents a federal takeover of schools. College Promise programs are taking place in communities and states, first and foremost.
While President Obama’s proposal is an important component of a national dialogue about college affordability, the College Promise Campaign does not advocate any one specific model. We are glad to see a range of College Promise programs succeeding in cities and states, as they are uniquely positioned to identify their own local needs.
There is no single approach to funding or implementing the College Promise—we applaud any responsible effort that results in additional students accessing an affordable education and will work vigorously to identify ways that communities and states can fund the first two years of higher education at a minimum!
The word “free” is a lightening rod to some. We know that “free” really means that business, philanthropy and/or government have together or separately found ways to invest in providing a community college education to responsible students. We think of education as an investment not only in individual students, but also their families, communities, and the nation.
The reality is that businesses, foundations, and various levels of government are stepping up to make these important investments in America’s future. When we equip students with the training and education they need to get ahead, we build a highly skilled workforce, a robust middle class, and a stronger country.
o you see this as an important element of president Obama’s legacy? Will he join you and your co-campaigners after he has left the White House?
Certainly President Obama has raised the importance and profile of community colleges as never before.
But, the College Promise Campaign is a non-partisan initiative, led by an independent advisory board of cross-sector leaders. In states like Tennessee and Oregon, elected leaders on both sides of the aisle are implementing the College Promise that funds tuition and fees at community colleges for responsible students. The benefits of a community college education for families and local communities is indisputable. It provides students with the skills, training, and education crucial to achieving economic success.
Therefore, we fully expect these programs to continue expanding with the support of elected leaders from all political backgrounds.
What can we do in Europe and here in the Netherlands to stimulate the debate and the success of this campaign?
It will be most helpful for our colleagues across the ocean to become knowledgeable about the College Promise and share high impact practices that are helping more of their students to enter and complete an affordable higher education without burdening themselves with excessive debt.
We also invite our friends from Europe – like you in the Netherlands – to visit College Promise programs in U.S. communities and states to see for themselves how they work and what value they are bringing to our students, families and communities.