I am often perplexed when I think about how higher education systems operate. Business and public leaders continuously lament that the economic prosperity of any nation is inextricably tied to the education of its citizens. In the United States, obtaining a higher education credential is a pursuit that many now consider a civil right and an essential pathway toward achieving the American dream. So it seems the purveyors of this valued education credential, which provides individual and collective prosperity, must take great care in and accept responsibility for providing a product that is relevant, useful and has future utility.
The United States has fallen from being the world's leader in the percentage of citizens holding higher education credentials to 12th among industrialized countries. This comes at a time when studies show that in just a few short years, jobs providing livable wages will require at minimum an associate degree. More and more students are entering higher education institutions underprepared, but aspiring to complete a baccalaureate degree. Fifty percent of the 8 million students enrolled in community colleges express intention to complete a baccalaureate degree, yet only 25 percent actually complete it.
Our higher education institutions must move from a culture that provides access and a "right to fail" to a culture that provides access and supports completion.
Providing access to higher education is essential for the development and sustainability of a middle class. Without access, the gap between socioeconomic classes will continue to widen, poverty rates will continue to climb, and the very foundation of democracy in this country will be placed in peril. Providing access to higher education by itself, however, is not enough. To return our nation to prominence in the number of adults with associate degrees or higher will require our country's higher education system to produce an estimated 8.2 million additional graduates by 2020. Of those, an additional 5 million students will need to graduate from community colleges.
Answering this call, the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society has joined with the five leading national organizations serving community colleges to spearhead an effort to help meet the Community College Completion Challenge. This challenge is as much about process and culture as it is about the end result of increasing the number of credentials or degrees earned.
Many say that students come to community colleges with no intention to complete a degree or credential. …