AAC&U, SHEEO help create coalition to address civic engagement

Along with College Promise and Complete College America, higher ed leaders will drive drive democracy discourse.
By: | September 28, 2021
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Although higher education institutions have made strong commitments to address the most pressing issues facing American democracy – from racial equity to healthcare to climate change – a group of organizations and leaders have pledged to do more and do it equitably.

On Tuesday, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association announced the creation of the Civic Learning and Democracy Engagement coalition in partnership with Complete College America and College Promise. The CLDE’s mission, backed by dozens of other agencies committed to change, will be to give all postsecondary students the knowledge and frameworks to proactively open dialogues and work together to help solve issues that are critical to the nation’s success.

“There are many ways to prepare students for active and knowledgeable participation in democracy,” said AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella, a member of the CLDE leadership group that includes some of the most prominent education-focused agencies in the U.S. “We are not recommending a one-size-fits-all approach. What we want to see is a next generation of creative leadership across all higher education institutions to make college-level civic learning expected, equitable, high quality, and inclusive.”

The new alliance of civic democracy champions offered a glimpse of what its ideals will be in a Shared Commitment Statement, including innovative solutions that foster sustainability. Among them it said, “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.”

To make that a reality, those leaders said the CLDE will promise to pursue four strategic goals:

  1. Quality and Equity: Students from underserved communities will be prioritized as institutions increase commitment and capacity to have democracy and civic engagement be part of postsecondary learning for all.
  2. Democracy Engagement: This will include helping students understand historical contexts and future perspective on the disparities that exist in the U.S., along with a global view how the world and its leaders operate.
  3. Collaborative Problem-Solving: Together, students will be tasked with a “creatve combinations of general education, arts and sciences studies, and career-related studies, to work directly on selected public problems that society needs to solve.” Those include racial healing, education, housing, digital access, human rights and interfaith cooperation.”
  4. Policy Commitment: Gain both financial and policy commitments to back the first three goals.

Building a strong, civic-minded and more learned pipeline of up-and-comers – and giving all groups the tools to do so – is essential for them to compete within our borders and on the global stage. Engaging in civil dialogue and skill building, they say, will help prepare them for the workforce of the future.

“We cannot be a stratified nation in which some college students prepare for civic leadership, while others get the implicit message that democracy will not require either their time or their talent,” said Yolanda Watson Spiva, president of Complete College America. “Students who complete college without the benefit of civic education or leadership experiences tend to have limited employment prospects and access to other opportunities that lead to the upward economic and social mobility promised by a postsecondary education.”

The AAC&U notes that more than 950 institutions are mandating civic engagement for accreditation under the Higher Learning Commission, while other state university systems are launching civic engagement initiatives.

“We celebrate the state systems that are already making civic learning a higher education priority,” said Robert Anderson, president of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. “But in the spirit of the nation’s founders, all educators need to advance civic learning as an indispensable asset to a creative democracy.”

The organizations and leaders that have signed on to the CLDE include:

  • Achieving the Dream (AtD): Karen Stout, President and CEO
  • ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge: Jennifer Domagal-Goldman, Executive Director
  • Anchor Institutions Task Force: David J. Maurrasse, Director
  • American Political Science Association: Steven R. Smith, Executive Director
  • Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIA): Noel Harmon, President
  • Bringing Theory to Practice: David Scobey, Director
  • Campus Compact: Maggie Grove, Interim President
  • Center for Community College Student Engagement: Linda Garcia, Executive Director
  • Center for Education and the Workforce, Georgetown University: Anthony Carnevale, Director
  • Civic Nation: Kyle Lierman, CEO
  • Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities: Bobbie Laur, Executive Director
  • Community College System of New Hampshire: Mark Rubinstein, Chancellor
  • Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS): Doreen Murner, Executive Director
  • ECMC Foundation: Peter Taylor, President
  • ETS: Walt MacDonald, President and CEO
  • Excelencia in Education: Sarita Brown, President
  • Higher Learning Commission: Barbara Gellman-Danley, President
  • Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities: Antonio R. Flores, President and CEO
  • Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life: Kal Alston and Erica Kohl, Board Chair and Faculty Director
  • Institute for Citizens and Scholars: Rajiv Vinnakota, President
  • Institute for Democracy & Higher Education, Tufts University: Nancy Thomas, Director
  • Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management: Lisa Petrides, Founder and CEO
  • Interfaith Youth Core: Eboo Patel, Founder and President
  • Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, Tufts University: Dayna Cunningham, Pierre and Pamala Omidyar Dean
  • Karsh Institute of Democracy, University of Virginia: Melody C. Barnes, Executive Director
  • League for Innovation in the Community College: Rufus Glasper, President and CEO
  • Massachusetts Department of Higher Education: Carlos Santiago, Commissioner
  • MENTOR: David Shapiro, CEO
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education: Heather F. Perfetti, President
  • National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators: Justin Draeger, President and CEO
  • National Association of Student Personnel Administrators: Kevin Kruger, President
  • National Association of System Heads (NASH): Rebecca Martin, Executive Director
  • National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment: Gianina Baker, Acting Director
  • National Issues Forums Institute: Betty Knighton, President
  • New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE): Lawrence Schall, President
  • Project Pericles: Jan R. Liss, Executive Director
  • Prosperity Now: Gary Cunningham, President and CEO
  • Public Agenda: Andrew J. Seligsohn, President
  • Scholarship America: Bob Ballard, President and CEO
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC): Belle S. Wheelan, President
  • State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV): Peter Blake, Director
  • The Howard R. Swearer Center for Public Service, Brown University: Mary Jo Callan, Stark Family Executive Director
  • The Bonner Foundation: Bobby Hackett, President
  • The Education Trust: Denise Forte, Interim CEO
  • The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights: Wade Henderson, Interim President & CEO
  • The Netter Center for Community Partnerships, University of Pennsylvania: Ira Harkavy, Associate Vice President and Founding Director
  • University System of Maryland: Jay Perman, Chancellor
  • WASC Senior College and University Commission: Jamienne S. Studley, President

Founding Signatories

  • Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U): Lynn Pasquerella, President
  • State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO): Robert Anderson, President
  • Complete College America (CCA): Yolanda Watson Spiva, President
  • College Promise: Martha Kanter, CEO

Research Partners

  • Center for Community College Student Engagement,
    The University of Texas at Austin
  • National Survey of Student Engagement,
    Center for Postsecondary Research, Indiana University School of Education
  • Faculty Survey of Student Engagement,
    Center for Postsecondary Research, Indiana University School of Education

K-12 Partners

  • iCivics, Educating for American Democracy
  • CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement,
    Tufts University, Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life

CLDE Education Advisors

  • Fay Akindes, Director, System-wide Professional and Instructional Development, University of Wisconsin System
  • Jodi Fisler, Senior Associate for Assessment Policy & Analysis at the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV)
  • Ari Hoy, Vice President for Program and Resource Development at the Bonner Foundation
  • Mary Beth Love, Executive Director, Metro Student Success Program and Professor of Public Health, San Francisco State University
  • David Scobey, Director of Bringing Theory to Practice (BTtoP)
  • Carol Geary Schneider, President Emerita, Association of American Colleges and Universities, Senior Advisor for Quality and Civic Learning, College Promise; Consultant for Quality and Equity, Lumina Foundation
  • Dawn Whitehead, Vice President, Global Citizenship for Campus, Community and Careers, AAC&U