A Message from President Osborn
Continuing Higher Education and the President’s Priorities
It didn’t take him long. Before he finished his first 50 days in office, President Barack Obama identified higher education as one of his governing priorities. And although we weren’t specifically named, our continuing higher education community has a major role to play.
In his address to a joint session of Congress last month, the President called for every American to pursue some form of education beyond high school. His goal is to have the world’s highest proportion of college graduates by 2020. It’s a lofty goal. Currently, the United States ranks 10th, with 39% of 25-34 year olds holding an associate degree or higher. Our neighbor, Canada, ranks significantly higher.
Following his address, President Obama released the broad outlines of his first budget, a budget that contains—using the language of American Council on Education’s president, Molly Corbett Broad—“unprecedented commitment to student access." Obama’s budget supports a $5,550 Pell Grant maximum award in 2010-2011, and its funding will automatically increase each year to keep pace with inflation. The budget seeks to stabilize the federal student loan program and expand the Perkins Loan Program to make its funds available to more students at more colleges and universities. The President’s budget will make permanent the $2,500 tuition tax credit for college spending that was a part of the stimulus package. The budget includes a $2.5 billion Access and Completion Incentive Fund for states to help low-income students complete college. The budget also includes support for the effective implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
What does this mean for continuing higher education? It means a lot. After all, we are all about access. ACHE’s roots are in college evening programs, programs designed to increase access to higher education for working adults and nontraditional students. In fact, we were originally known as the Association of University Evening Colleges. We have a history of serving the underserved, although our efforts have been hampered by tight economic times. While many take Obama’s remarks to be directed at traditional-aged students, they’re equally applicable to older students. Our accelerated degree programs, online programs, evening and off-campus programs, military education programs, capstone programs—all can help meet this goal. While we can do more, some of our most innovative programs target traditionally underserved populations, a vital group to reach to increase college participation and completion. Our non-credit and workforce education programs can put unemployed and under-employed folks back on stable footing. And many of the President’s priorities will strengthen the traditional sides of our technical schools, colleges and universities, thereby enabling continuing education to grow and blossom.
Still, it would be nice to be a face at the table. For all of his talk about higher education, the President did not mention adult education, continuing education or lifelong learning. This is, of course, our constant struggle. We’re often little recognized in our own institutions, our own states—let alone on the national stage. But we’re not completely ignored. In a new report that parallels Obama’s interest in increasing college attainment, the Lumina Foundation for Education’s, A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education: How and Why Americans Must Meet a “Big Goal” for College Attainment, throws the first pitch directly to continuing higher education:
Still, the challenge is far from insurmountable, in part because we’re not starting from scratch.
In every state, there are significant numbers of the working-age population who have already
earned some college credit. If we focus first on these residents — those who have some
college but have not yet earned a degree — we can begin to turn the tide fairly quickly.
We are ready to help. We need to let President Obama and the Congress know that we have, as we say here in ACHE South, a dog in this hunt. And it’s a bigger dog than most folks realize.