With democracy facing profound challenges at home and abroad,
higher education’s civic mission—affirmed since the founding of the
Republic--has become more important than ever before. Today, with
the majority of Americans seeking postsecondary education, higher
education can become an essential training ground for civic leadership and
community engagement. Through our efforts, each new generation can prepare
for its role in supporting a common and public good.
Hundreds of postsecondary institutions already have taken concerted action
to renew their civic missions. Through the creation of curricula engaged with
real world problems, powerful civic experiences and research, and long-term
community partnerships, pacesetting institutions across all sectors of higher
education now are contributing to the development of more just and inclusive
societies, at home and abroad.
These efforts are a strong beginning, but much more is needed to make democracy
learning expected, rather than possible, for postsecondary students. Today, higher
education is dotted with pockets of great democracy learning and practice. But to
fulfill higher education’s civic mission, we need to make civic inquiry and
democracy engagement part of each student’s educational pathway.
As the 1947 Truman Commission urged after the horrors of World War II, higher
education’s principal purposes are to bring “to all the people of the Nation,
a fuller realization of democracy in every sphere of life” and the
“application of creative imagination and trained intelligence to the solution
of social problems....”
Today our social problems encompass equity, the environment, racial healing and
justice, social trust, food and housing security, economic opportunity, and a
living wage for all who work. For many students, these problems are both daily
realities and daunting barriers to college enrollment and persistence.
Students want to help create solutions that transform lives. We owe all students
a quality education that empowers them to learn and act, alongside diverse partners,
to build a better future. We owe them, as well, a strong foundation in civil
discourse–the capacity and commitment to engage respectfully and productively with
views and experiences different from their own.
Equally important, we must rally to build public recognition that, just as civic
learning is a core purpose for postsecondary education, it also builds essential
workforce skills. Teamwork, communication, problem-solving, critical thinking,
and engagement across differences are the real-world skills that build both better
democracies and creative economies. Investing in democracy learning expands economic
opportunity as well.
It is time to make high quality, equity-committed civic learning expected and
experienced across postsecondary education.
Toward that end, each of the Signatories
to this statement pledges to:
Shared Commitment Signatories and Partners
Affirm the civic mission of postsecondary education and take vigorous action to
help higher education fulfill that mission;
Showcase examples in our community of civic engagement and democracy learning
at scale – involving all students and especially students from communities that
have been chronically underserved in U.S. society;
Engage public and policy leaders with the importance of higher education’s civic
mission and the need to advance equity-committed civic learning in college;
Support and align with educational reforms in P-12 civics and history that
also are moving forward in U.S. states, communities, and schools;
Work in our own contexts to provide high quality civic learning for students,
including: connections between curricular and experiential learning;
opportunities to work on significant public problems; practice in constructively
engaging views different from one’s own; and disaggregated evidence about what
works and what needs improvement in students’ experience of democracy learning;
Provide leaders and educators the support needed to deepen civic learning and
democracy engagement in their own contexts; to make equitable participation a
documented achievement; and to work toward a common goal of creating a
high quality, civic-oriented postsecondary education for all U.S. students.