Higher Education and Society

Institutions of education and the system of which they are a part face unprecedented challenges from societal forces that affect and are influenced by these institutions and their communities of learners and educators. Among these forces are sweeping demographic changes, shrinking provincial budgets, revolutionary advances in information and telecommunication technologies, globalization, competition from new educational providers, market pressures to shape academic practices toward profit-driven ends, and increasing demands and pressures for fundamental changes in public policy and public accountability relative to the role of higher education in addressing pressing issues of communities and the society at large. Any one of these challenges would be significant on its own. Still, collectively, they increase the complexity and difficulty for education to sustain or advance the fundamental work of serving the public good.


Through an education forum, we can agree that strengthening the relationship between higher education and society will require a broad effort encompassing all education, not just individual institutions, departments, and associations.

Piecemeal solutions can only go so far; a shared vision and common objectives must inform strategies for change. A “movement” approach to change holds greater promise for transforming academic culture than the prevailing “organizational” approach. Mobilizing change will require strategic alliances, networks, and partnerships with various stakeholders within and beyond education.

The Common Agenda is specifically designed to support a “movement” approach to change by encouraging the emergence of strategic alliances among individuals and organizations who care about the role of higher education in advancing the ideals of a diverse democratic system through education practices, relationships, and service to society.


A Common Agenda

The Common Agenda is intended to be a “living” document and an open process guiding collective action and learning among committed partners within and outside higher education. As a living document, the Common Agenda is a collection of focused activities to advance civic, social, and cultural roles in society. This collaboratively created, implemented, and focused Common Agenda respects the diversity of activity and programmatic foci of individuals, institutions, and networks and recognizes the whole’s common interests. As an open process, the Common Agenda connects work and relationships around common interests, focusing on the academic role of serving society. The Common Agenda process will provide various modes of aligning and amplifying the common work within and beyond education.

This approach is understandably ambitious and unique in its purpose and application. Ultimately, the Common Agenda challenges the higher education system and those who view education as vital to addressing society’s pressing issues to act deliberately, collectively, and clearly on an evolving and significant set of commitments to the community. Currently, four broad issue areas are shaping the focus of the Common Agenda: 1) Building public understanding and support for our civic mission and actions; 2) Cultivating networks and partnerships; 3) Infusing and reinforcing the value of civic responsibility into the culture of higher education institutions, and 4) Embedding civic engagement and social responsibility in the structure of the education system.

VISION We have an idea of higher education that nurtures individual prosperity, institutional responsiveness and inclusivity, and societal health by promoting and practicing learning, scholarship, and engagement that respects public needs. Our universities are proactive and responsive to pressing social, ethical, and economic problems facing our communities and society. Our students are people of integrity who embrace diversity, are socially responsible, and are civilly engaged throughout their lives.

MISSION The purpose of the Common Agenda is to provide a framework for organizing, guiding, and communicating the values and practices of education relative to its civic, social, and economic commitments to a diverse democratic system.


I believe social justice, ethics, educational equity, and societal change for positive effects are fundamental to the work of higher education. We consider the relationship between communities and educational institutions to be based on equality, respect, and reciprocity, and the work in education to be interdependent with the other institutions and individuals.

We will seek and rely on extensive partnerships with all types of institutions and devoted individuals inside and outside higher education.

We realize the interconnection of politics, power, and privilege. The Common Agenda is not for higher education to self-serve but to “walk the talk” relative to espoused public goals. We understand the Common Agenda as a dynamic living document and expect its activities to change over time.

THE COMMON AGENDA FRAMEWORK The general framework for the common agenda is represented in the following diagram. It is clear that while goals and action items are organized and aligned within certain issue areas, there is considerable overlap and complementarity among the issues, goals, and action items. Also, following each action item are names of individuals who committed to serve as “point persons” for that particular item. A list of “point persons” with their organizational affiliation(s) is included with the common agenda.



Public understanding increasingly equates higher education benefits with acquiring a “good job” and receiving “higher salaries.” To understand and support the full benefits of higher education, the public and higher education leaders need to engage in critical and honest discussions about the role of higher education in society. Goal: Develop a common language that resonates inside and outside the institution. Action Items: Develop a common language and themes about our academic role and responsibility to the public through discussions with a broader public.

Collect scholarship on the public good, examine themes, and identify remaining questions. Through marketing efforts, develop national awareness of the importance of higher education for the public good.

Goal: Promote effective and broader discourse. Action Items: Raise public awareness about the institutional diversity within and between higher education institutions.

Identify strategies for engaging alumni associations to articulate the public good and build bridges between higher education and various private and public sector companies. Develop discourse guidelines to improve the quality of dialogue at every level of society. Organize a series of civil conversations with different public sectors about higher education and the public good.


Approaching complex issues, such as the role of higher education in society, requires a broad mix of partners to create strategies and actions encompassing multiple valued perspectives and experiences.

Broad partnerships to strengthen the relationship between higher education and society involve working strategically with those within and outside higher education to achieve mutual goals for the public good.

Goal: Create broad and dispersed communication systems and processes.

Action Items:

Create an information and resource network across higher education associations. Create information processes that announce relevant conferences, recruit presenters, and encourage presentations at appropriate national conferences. Develop information-sharing and learning opportunities within and between various postsecondary institutions (e.g., research-centered communities).

Goal: Create and support strategic alliances and diverse collaborations.

Action Items: Establish and support ongoing partnerships and collaborations between higher education associations and the external community (e.g., civic organizations, legislators, and community members). Explore with the public how to employ the role of arts in advancing higher education for the public good. Promote collaboration between higher education and address access, retention, and graduation concerns.


Education should attend to the implicit and explicit consequences of its work and reexamine “what counts” to integrate research, teaching, and service for the public good into the institution’s core functions.

Goal: Emphasize civic skills and leadership development in the curriculum and co-curriculum.

Action Items: Develop and implement a curriculum in colleges and universities that promotes students’ civic engagement. Create co-curricular student and community programs for leadership and civic engagement development. Develop learning opportunities, inside and outside the classroom, that promote liberty, democratic responsibility, social justice, and knowledge of the economic system. Develop student leadership and service opportunities that focus on ethical behavior. Teach graduate students organizing and networking skills and encourage student leadership and Diversity Education.

Goal: Foster a deeper commitment to the public good.

Action Items: Work with faculty on communication skills and languages to describe their engagement with the public and educate faculty for the common good. Identify models for promotion and tenure standards. Identify models for faculty development.

Goal: Identify, recognize, and support engaged scholarship.

Action Items: Identify and disseminate models and exemplars of scholarship on the public good. Encourage participation in community research. Help institutions to call attention to exemplary outreach. Establish a capacity-building effort for institutions.

Goal: Align graduate education with the civic mission.

Action Items: Work with disciplinary associations to discuss how graduate student training can incorporate public engagement, involvement, and service. Promote “civic engagement” within academic and professional disciplines according to the disciplines’ definitions. Incorporate the concept of higher education for the public good into current graduate education reform efforts.


Promoting the public benefits of higher education requires system efforts beyond institutions to intentionally embed values of civic engagement and social responsibility in governance practices, policy decisions, and educational processes.

Goal: Align governing structures and administrative strategies.

Action Items: Develop ways to improve student and community involvement in educational institutions’ governance and decision-making process. Identify and promote courses for institutions to improve the participation of the public and the practice of democracy within their institution. Establish public good/civic engagement units that orchestrate this work throughout institutions.

Goal: Publicly recognize and support valuable engagement work.

Action Items: Offer public awards that reward institutions with a demonstrable track record in serving the public good to encourage institutional performance around the public good and civic engagement.

Develop a comprehensive inventory of funding sources, association activities, initiatives, and exemplary practices that advance the public good. Identify, recognize, and support early-career scholars who choose to research higher education and its public role in society.


Alcohol scholar. Bacon fan. Internetaholic. Beer geek. Thinker. Coffee advocate. Reader. Have a strong interest in consulting about teddy bears in Nigeria. Spent 2001-2004 promoting glue in Pensacola, FL. My current pet project is testing the market for salsa in Las Vegas, NV. In 2008 I was getting to know birdhouses worldwide. Spent 2002-2008 buying and selling easy-bake-ovens in Bethesda, MD. Spent 2002-2009 marketing country music in the financial sector.