No wonder we look back proudly on these amazingly farsighted interventions by
the federal government. Less well known is that these grand ideas did not come
from higher education and, by and large, were opposed by the higher education
establishment of the day.
Consider the GI Bill: Higher ed opposed it, not wanting all those unwashed mixing with their traditional students. It was also opposed by veterans groups that preferred a straight $5,000 cash bonus. But, in a close vote, investment in our shared future by investing in our people carried the day.
In both the Morrill Act and the GI Bill, our national government was not seeking to help higher education. Rather, it was seeking to solve pressing national problems. In one case, it was the more effective enabling of agriculture and manufacturing; in the other, avoiding massive unemployment as GIs came home.
What, then, will motivate a reversal of disinvestment in public higher education? History suggests it is the recognition of a dramatic and pressing problem combined with a strategy of investing in longer-term solutions.
What might that pressing national concern be? As I listened to my colleagues tell their stories from all corners of the country, I recognized a tale we know well in Green Bay. Rapidly changing demography is changing the face of those who will be our future reservoir of talent, ideas and creativity. Today, for example, in the Green Bay K-12 schools, 32% of those enrolled are students of color, and that is projected to reach 40% in a mere five years. Residents who remember a largely homogenous population are looking at, within their lifetimes, a majority minority community.
You have heard me argue in this column in the past that our country has prospered precisely because each generation has made the investment necessary to assure that the next generation is better educated than were the parents. Today, looking at the statistics, that trend is reversing. And this is happening precisely at a time when our globe is shrinking, our economy is becoming idea based, and the international competition now taking our manufacturing jobs is taking aim on our competitive edge in the innovation economy, as well.
Thats the big problem our nation has to solve, not for the benefit
of those chancellors who gathered to discuss higher education, but for the shared
future of generations to come.
I take it down to UWGB. We are building that bridge to the future through exciting programs like the Phuture Phoenix. Were matching up UWGB student mentors with Green Bay fifth graders from diverse backgrounds too long under-represented in higher education, from homes where mom and dad likely have not gone to college. The pipeline, thankfully, is being constructed. What happens, though, in eight years if these new recruits these foundations for building our future show up at a campus both overenrolled and out of their price range?
I take it back to the local level for another reason. My head starts hurting as I try to figure out how we might begin to shape federal policy. I do know, though, that all politics are local. That's where we will direct our efforts.
We are fortunate to have supportive local legislators. It is our responsibility, as citizens, to see that that continues. Ask candidates what they are going to do to help our changing region prepare for a future where higher education is the key to their and our brighter futures.
Listen to their answers, and vote. Voting, after all, is as American as apple pie... and the GI Bill and the Morrill Act and the grand idea that affordability and access should forever be part of public higher education.
Those are my current thoughts. Yours, I am sure, are even more creative. Please share them with me for, by that sharing, each of our understandings will be made more effective.
Thank you for your continuing interest in our future,
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