Divided We Fail: Why It’s Time for a Broader, More Inclusive Conversation on the Future of Higher Education

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A Final Report on the 2013 National Issues Forums

Prepared for the Kettering Foundation by Public Agenda

At state and institutional levels, leaders are discussing and enacting policy changes that could shape the future of higher education for decades—especially public higher education. But when citizens talk about the mission of higher education today, their conversations are different from those of policymakers. How do their values and concerns intersect with the arguments and ideas leaders are putting forward? What are their hopes for—and concerns about—higher education? What do they value? What changes do they need to think about and deliberate?

This report to the Kettering Foundation, prepared by Public Agenda, describes the thinking of college students, parents, professors, employers, retirees, and others who gathered in more than 115 public forums, titled “Shaping Our Future,” around the country in 2012–2013 to deliberate on the future of higher education. Using a short issue guide, they considered three alternative options for higher education:

  1. Emphasizing science and technology education to help the economy;
  2. Offering students a rich, broad education and emphasizing principles such as responsibility, integrity, and working together;
  3. Expanding opportunity by helping more students attend college and graduate.

The aspirations, observations, and sometimes-conflicted feelings voiced by forum participants are summarized in this report, along with some further questions that arose: What does it mean to be well educated? What does it mean to be prepared for a world of work that changes continually? How do we make higher education affordable—for governments and for students? What do we mean by “equal opportunity” in higher education? The country needs and could benefit from more public deliberation on the future of higher education, bringing leaders together with students, faculty, and citizens in the broader community to engage these questions.

Kettering Foundation | 2014 | 31 pages | Free