New Coalition Formed to Advance the Civic Mission of Postsecondary Education
Founding Statement Describes a Shared Commitment to Make Democracy Learning a Top Priority Across US Colleges and Universities
September 28, 2021—Washington, DC—The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) announced today that it has joined with Complete College America, College Promise, and the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association to form Civic Learning and Democracy Engagement (CLDE), a new coalition of higher education and student success organizations committed to ensuring that civic learning is both expected and experienced equitably across postsecondary education in the United States.
The founding CLDE commitment is described in a statement titled “Our Shared Commitment: Democracy Learning Is a Top Priority for Postsecondary Education.” Dozens of additional partner organizations have signed onto the statement, pledging to advance the civic mission of postsecondary education by engaging with policy leaders, showcasing examples, promoting alignment with P-12 reforms, and working to provide high-quality civic learning and make equitable participation a documented achievement.
“There are many ways to prepare students for active and knowledgeable participation in democracy,” said AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella, who serves as a member of the CLDE leadership group. “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 CLDE coalition seeks to focus national discussion on the need to ensure that all college students gain civic, historical, global, and intercultural knowledge and that all students engage with public problems. “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.”
To achieve goals of national transformation and inclusion, several CLDE partners are taking expansive action to advance civic engagement across multiple institutions. The Higher Learning Commission, for example, has made civic engagement an accreditation criterion for its 967 institutions. Some state systems have launched initiatives to advance civic learning for all students. “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 work of College Promise to make college as universal, free, and accessible as high school aligns perfectly with the CLDE’s mission to prepare all students across all fields of study to help create a vibrant and inclusive democracy,” said Martha Kanter, CEO of College Promise and former US Under Secretary of Education.
The CLDE will pursue four goals:
- Quality and Equity: Build commitment and capacity—across postsecondary education—to make civic learning and democracy engagement an expected part of a quality college education for all college students, with equitable participation by students from underserved communities a top priority.
- Democracy Engagement: Engage students with democracy’s history, present and future, in a diverse United States, in US communities still struggling to reverse inherited disparities, and in a globally interdependent world where authoritarianism is on the rise.
- Collaborative Problem-Solving: Prepare each postsecondary student, through creative combinations of general education, arts and sciences studies, and career-related studies, to work directly on selected public problems that society needs to solve—e.g., problems in racial healing, health, education, housing, climate, digital access, human rights, justice systems, and interfaith cooperation.
- Policy Commitment: Secure policy support for, and robust public investment in, the goals listed above.
To learn more about the CLDE, visit www.CollegeCivicLearning.org.
AAC&U is the leading national association dedicated to advancing the vitality and public standing of liberal education by making quality and equity the foundations for excellence in undergraduate education in service to democracy. Its members are committed to extending the advantages of a liberal education to all students, regardless of academic specialization or intended career. Founded in 1915, AAC&U now comprises more than 1,000 member institutions—including accredited public and private colleges, community colleges, research universities, and comprehensive universities of every type and size.
AAC&U functions as a catalyst and facilitator, forging links among presidents, administrators, faculty, and staff engaged in institutional and curricular planning. Through a broad range of activities, AAC&U reinforces the collective commitment to liberal education at the national, local, and global levels. Its high-quality programs, publications, research, meetings, institutes, public outreach efforts, and campus-based projects help individual institutions ensure that the quality of student learning is central to their work as they evolve to meet new economic and social challenges. For more information, visit www.aacu.org.