After serving as a college president for the last eight years, and a higher-education administrator for well over 30 years, I admit I have some serious concerns about the lack of apparent urgency we (our country) seem to evince regarding the need to develop a vast pool of human capital. This broaden pool would have to include Americans of all affinities, not to mention racial, ethnic, and geographical diversities. The recent immigration debates also leaves many unanswered questions about our forth-going vision of the country’s melting pot concept inscribed on a plaque near the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Granted when Emma Lazarus wrote this sonnet that contains the aforementioned, America was still very much in its infancy, and seemingly believed it needed able-bodied men and women to populate and experience “freedom” in a country occupied previously by Native Americans.
As a president, I spent most of my time interacting with the descendants of later generations of immigrants and descendants of slaves who arrive at college seeking the dream of a somewhat elusive freedom. These students come to college to learn how to construct a life that resembles a plausible version of the “American Dream.” Unfortunately, many of these college entrants have already faced a gauntlet of seemingly intractable problems including family backgrounds that cannot support college tuition, low academic expectations from secondary schools, and underdeveloped communication competencies which add to their already burdensome lives.
From my many interactions with these students and their families, I know that they bring with them a desire for guidance, for structure, and for a fair chance. These families rarely come for a handout. They already know how some of the more-advantaged citizens view them– as a drain on the economy. The dream and hopes they bring with them are that they will leave college and be able to build lives in which they can contribute to the economic stability, well-being, and intellectual capital of their communities, regions, and the nation. Such a contribution brings with its an enhanced self-esteem that enriches future generations of their families. For the rest of us their transformation and self-confidence augments our communities’ intellectual capital and societal well-being.
Thus, possibly I have missed it, but I must ask with so many benefits where is our sense of urgency to invest in, and to support, our connected future?