Opinion: Improving intellectual infrastructure in American higher education

Congress must invest billions to upgrade community colleges and research laboratories at HBCUs.

As President Biden and Congress debate whether, to what extent, and in what ways to improve infrastructure in the United States, it becomes apparent that we need a more expansive definition of the term. Proponents of the historical understanding of infrastructure think in terms of “hard” physical structures such as roads, bridges, and airports. Consistent with this understanding, the American Infrastructure Report Card issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers finds that our nation has been doing somewhat better recently. Of course, raising the cumulative grade from D- four years ago to C- in 2021 is incremental at best.

To achieve real social progress, however, we must also address the “soft” infrastructure that improves our quality of life, beginning with healthcare and education.

As a report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences points out, “Policy-makers should broaden their understanding of infrastructure to include our intellectual infrastructure, which is no less important to the nation’s future than our roads and bridges.” Congressional gridlock notwithstanding, state and federal investment in this knowledge infrastructure has long been integral to our nation’s health, wellbeing, and prosperity.

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