A uniquely American asset—our colleges and universities—has great untapped potential to increase opportunity and improve the lives of Americans. No country has a system like ours, which includes an unparalleled share of the world’s best research universities, distinguished liberal arts colleges, and community colleges that offer practical and affordable education, training, and second chances to millions.
Colleges and universities can be pillars supporting our efforts both to fuel economic growth and to strengthen our civic ties. Wages barely budged for a typical family between 2000 and 2016, after inflation. Only half of American workers born in the 1980s earn more than their parents did a generation ago. The changing nature of work and the rapid pace of automation add substantial uncertainty to the job market. Finally, America’s current civic picture is also disturbing, with historically low levels of trust in one another and in government institutions, a continued decline in volunteering, voting, and participation in community projects and organizations, and increased tensions in American communities.
Fortunately, higher education institutions have identified a growing number of potential tools to help students thrive in college and graduate prepared for more demanding careers and civic participation. These range from new approaches to student coaching to innovative ways to teach math through software. Among policy makers, there is growing support for applying evidence of what works to make better use of taxpayer dollars and solve persistent policy problems. For example, the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 requires states and school districts to better identify and apply what works to improve K-12 schools.
As a Democrat and a Republican, the authors of this report may not agree on everything, but we both believe that the strategic use of data and evidence can help many more college students succeed. Achieving this goal also helps to promote upward mobility, strengthen the middle class, foster shared economic growth, and enable Americans of all backgrounds to understand and cooperate with one another to solve our toughest public challenges.