The National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) have just issued a new report, "A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy's Future." The report urges colleges and universities to integrate civic learning and civic literacy into the fabric of university life. As the report states, "A socially cohesive and economically vibrant U.S. democracy...require[s] informed, engaged, open-minded, and socially responsible people committed to the common good and practiced in 'doing' democracy....".
Universities have been criticized for graduating students without the broad, general education that they will need for 21st Century Skills. For example, the recent book, Academic Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, argues that seniors taking on assessment instrument, the College Learning Assessment, demonstrate very little learning over their four years of colleges. Colleges and universities have a responsibility of preparing an educated
workforce. This is particularly true in the case of community colleges
who often develop curricula specific to new industries and training
programs for new employers. Even four-year colleges and universities
must do a better job of providing the broad skill sets for a rapidly
changing work force and a global economy. After all, we graduate
teachers, nurses, engineers, social workers, and in professional
schools, develop the next generation of physicians, lawyers, and other
Even so, we cannot forget that colleges and universities also prepare America's future leaders and educate a significant portion of its citizenry. We contribute to the education of an informed electorate, which is vital to the survival and strengthening our our democracy and our society. As the AAC&U full report makes clear, "Today's education for democracy needs to be informed by deep engagement with the values of liberty, equality, individual worth, open mindedness, and the willingness to collaborate with people of differing views and backgrounds towards common solutions for the public good."
The AAC&U report provides brief examples of some of the work of colleges and universities throughout the country. It recommends that all American universities foster a civic ethos across all parts of campus and educational culture, require civic literacy as a core expectation for all students in general education programs, practice civic inquiry across all fields, and advance civic action through transformative partnerships at home and abroad.
As a president of the University of Houston-Downtown I have shared this report with the administrative and academic leadership of the university. I encourage our faculty to tie civic learning into our core curriculum and to expand service learning courses and internships. UHD is recognized on the President's Honor Roll for Civic Engagement, it is earned the Carnegie-classification as an 'engaged university,' and has well-established partnerships with neighborhoods, agencies, schools, and nonprofits. But, all of us can do more. I welcome the report and the challenge it presents. America can only be stronger for it.