AAC&U’s 2018 Annual Meeting will address higher education’s role in the American Dream in the face of a narrative arguing that the two have become disconnected. On a societal level, the American Dream has long been associated with improvement in quality of life from generation to generation. But American dreams are also unique, personal, and hopeful—affected by each individual’s socioeconomic class or cultural background; educational, professional, and personal aspirations; immigration status or race. The American Dream may also reflect the desire for a safer home or safer workplace, but today, it is more closely aligned with economic mobility than with a life well lived. We, as educators, must make a strong case for higher education as a pathway to the fully realized American Dream for all students, serving as a catalyst for economic success, democratic vitality, and social participation.
The public discourse has contributed to the disconnect between college learning and American aspiration by advancing a false dichotomy between higher education and the “real world.” Yet higher education—while under attack for being disengaged from everyday life and for not providing direct access to high-paying jobs—can and does prepare students for the realities of life and work. In fact, many students are already working in the world, whether as interns or full-time employees, while earning their degrees; many are also practicing the skills needed for participation in a democratic society.
AAC&U member institutions are ensuring that students are prepared for life and work through curricular and cocurricular transformation. Scaled-up high-impact practices, high-quality assessment of curricular and cocurricular learning, transparent and well-designed educational pathways from the first to the final year, and the creation of inclusive campuses that promote student success are a few of the practices that higher education offers to ensure that students are now gaining the essential skills that are valued by employers and necessary for democratic participation and a life well lived.
The Annual Meeting will highlight the work of AAC&U member institutions that have created evidence-based educational practices guided by clearly articulated goals for student learning—practices designed for students of all backgrounds and across all disciplines at two-year, four-year, public, and private institutions. Students’ achievement of transformative learning outcomes is a direct result of high-quality teaching, which, in fact, serves to underscore the connection between higher education and the American Dream.
The 2018 Annual Meeting—with your participation—will offer a counternarrative that clearly articulates the alignment of higher education, life, work, and citizenship.
We invite you to join us and look forward to seeing you in Washington.