By Sophie Zdatny and Maria Markham for RealClearEducation
The United States has rarely been so divided, with partisan politics infiltrating Americans’ views on every major challenge facing the country. That includes higher education, where Democrats and Republicans strongly disagree on issues such as affirmative action, student loan forgiveness and campus free speech.
However, there is one point of view connecting both sides of the aisle, and it’s a troubling sign for colleges and universities: Most Republicans and Democrats say higher education is headed in the wrong direction.
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Nearly three-quarters of Republicans and 56 percent of Democrats cited students not getting the skills they need to succeed in the workplace as one of the reasons their faith in higher education is waning. About 90 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Republicans cite higher tuition.
Americans as a whole are losing faith in higher education. A recent poll found that most Americans now say a college education is more of a gamble than a smart investment in their future.
We are seeing this lack of trust reflected in drastically declining enrollment. About 3 million fewer students enrolled in college in the past decade. The COVID-19 pandemic and its ongoing economic impact have exacerbated this sentiment, with one million fewer students enrolled since March 2020.
As higher education executives for two states with different political views, we recognize that even in this time of historic polarization, consensus can and should be found on an important issue like postsecondary education.
Although the politics of our states differ greatly, we find common ground on the need to close the gap in college completion and better serve all of America’s learners.
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We know that a postsecondary credential is one of the nation’s most powerful levers for social and economic mobility.
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But we know that journey to that point remains a risky and expensive gamble for too many people. Nearly one-third of all college students do not earn a degree within six years, with black and Hispanic students struggling to graduate at disproportionate rates compared to white learners.
Thirty-six million US adults have earned some college credit but never graduated, including more than five million black Americans. About 40 percent of students who take out loans to pay for their education do not graduate within six years, leaving them with substantial debt, but without a credential or a clear path to a career.
Many disagree with President Biden’s plan to address the student loan crisis, but it’s clear that we must fix the broken system that got us here in the first place.
Arkansas has long worked to raise the state’s achievement rate with a funding model that focuses on increasing student success through three broad goals: efficiency, effectiveness and affordability.
The plan aims to increase the percentage of Arkansans who qualify from the current 39.5 percent to 60 percent by 2025. Since 2017, the Arkansas Department of Higher Education has partnered with Complete College America, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing graduation rates nationwide. Completing on time and reducing student loan debt.
This initiative provides students with critical information about credit accumulation and empowers them to make better informed decisions about their educational journey.
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Vermont has made strides in improving access and college completion for its learners as part of the state’s 70% achievement goal.
Recognizing that many of today’s college-goers are older, working learners with a wide range of experiences and backgrounds, the Vermont State Colleges system now offers students opportunities to earn credit for prior learning. They are earned through work, training, military or community service, and online or in-person study.
This means that the wealth of knowledge and expertise that learners bring with them to college can count toward their degree requirements, reducing the time and cost of earning a credential.
Meanwhile, the Vermont Department of Labor and the J. Warren & Lois McClure Foundation have created an online hub for Vermonters to explore the state’s 60 most promising career paths and learn about education and training programs. These jobs.
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As members of a consortium of institutions partnering with Complete College America, both Vermont and Arkansas employ its Game Changers strategies. These research-proven methods are helping us increase the number of students successfully completing college in our states and help us close achievement gaps for traditionally underrepresented populations.
Union members are committed to taking the bold steps necessary to significantly increase the number of students who successfully complete college with degrees and valuable credentials.
At a time of such stark polarization in our country, achieving equity in higher education must remain a truly bipartisan issue. We must come together, invest in proven student success strategies, and ensure that our state’s colleges and universities live up to the promises they make to millions of Americans.
Syndicated with permission from RealClearWire.
The views expressed by contributors and/or content partners are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of political insiders.