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Leading Higher Education Organizations Mobilize to Include All College Students in Civic Learning and Democracy Engagement (CLDE)

September 28, 2021 GMT

WASHINGTON, Sept. 28, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Democracy faces monumental challenges in the U.S. and world-wide. And in this pivotal era, postsecondary educators should take concerted action to help build Americans’ readiness to tackle urgent public problems, together.

That’s the message from dozens of higher education and student success organizations that today announced a ” Shared Commitment ” to make “Democracy Learning a Top Priority for Postsecondary Education.”

Urging “equity-committed civic learning,” the signatories call for civic inquiry, practice in civil discourse, and collaborative work on real-world public problems to be part of each postsecondary student’s educational pathway, including their career preparation.


The Shared Commitment pledge was organized by Civic Learning and Democracy Engagement (CLDE). Founded by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO), Complete College America (CCA) and College Promise, CLDE is working in partnership with leading civic organizations and initiatives across the U.S.

“There are many ways to prepare students for active and knowledgeable democracy participation,” said Lynn Pasquerella, President of AAC&U. “We are not recommending a one-size-fits-all approach. What we want to see is a next generation of creative leadership across all higher education institutions to make college-level civic learning expected, equitable, high quality, and inclusive.”

The Shared Commitment statement notes that hundreds of postsecondary institutions currently are working to engage students with urgent public issues. The problem, CLDE leaders say, is that students from underserved communities are the least likely to take part in these mostly optional civic courses and community-based programs.


Challenging these inequities, the CLDE coalition will work to shift the national higher education discussion from its insufficient focus on skills and short-term training to a larger concern with all college students’ civic, historical, global, and intercultural knowledge, and their work on pressing public problems.

“We cannot be a stratified nation in which some college students prepare for civic leadership while others get the implicit message that democracy will not require either their time or their talent,” said Yolanda Watson Spiva, President of Complete College America. “Students who complete college without the benefit of civic education or leadership experiences tend to have limited employment prospects and access to other opportunities that lead to the upward economic and social mobility promised by a postsecondary education.”

Equity-committed educators, CLDE leaders say, already are demonstrating how work on public problems can be made central in every student’s education. All students at Kingsborough Community College, a national leader in quality and completion efforts, complete a civic learning course as part of their degree. All students at Portland State University complete a senior year collaborative civic action project, typically keyed to their majors. And all students at Tulane University complete at least two public service courses and projects, one in the core curriculum and one in their major.

Several of the Shared Commitment signatories now are taking action to advance college-level civic engagement “at scale.” In 2020, the Higher Learning Commission made civic engagement a quality criterion for the 967 institutions it accredits. Further, three state systems have recently launched comprehensive initiatives to advance civic learning for all students in their public community colleges and universities.

“We celebrate the state systems—Maryland, Massachusetts, and Virginia—that already are making civic learning a higher education priority, said Robert Anderson, SHEEO’s President. “But in the spirit of the nation’s founders, all educators need to advance civic learning as an indispensable asset to a creative democracy.”

Other Shared Commitment signatories are working in private higher education, and in active and ongoing partnerships between universities and community-based organizations, local governments, and philanthropies. “The work of College Promise to make college as universal, free, and accessible as high school aligns perfectly with CLDE’s mission to prepare all students across all fields of study to help create a vibrant and inclusive democracy,” said Martha Kanter, CEO of College Promise and former U.S. Under Secretary for Education.

Going forward, CLDE will work on four goals:

  • Quality and Equity: Build commitment and capacity—across postsecondary education—to make civic learning and democracy engagement an expected part of a quality college education for all college students, with equitable participation by students from underserved communities a top priority.
  • Democracy Engagement: Engage students with democracy’s history, present and future in a diverse United States, in U.S. communities still struggling to reverse inherited disparities, and in a globally interdependent world where authoritarianism is on the rise.
  • Collaborative Problem-Solving: Prepare each postsecondary student, through creative combinations of general education, arts and sciences studies, and career-related studies, to work directly on selected public problems that society needs to solve—e.g., problems in racial healing, health, education, housing, climate, digital access, human rights, justice systems, and interfaith cooperation.
  • Policy Commitment: Secure policy support for and robust public investment in the goals listed above.

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SOURCE Civic Learning and Democracy Engagement (CLDE)