No More Alma Maters?

America faces a staggering college completion crisis... an ongoing skills gap that threatens our economic future and degrades our intellectual leadership around the world... Most students who do graduate are not representative of the rich diversity that defines this nation. The hopes raised by nearly equitable enrollments in the freshman class for students of color, low-income students and first generation students are crushed by persistent gaps in achievement and completion.

A few weeks ago I was at a press conference where Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education revealed President Obama's second-term education agenda and a slate of high expectations for colleges and universities.

His call to action was clear. We must work together to fix the problems of accountability, accessibility and affordability of higher education for all people living in the United States.

This ambitious plan could change our approach to post-secondary instruction in ways that we have not seen since the GI Bill. My dad told me about having the GI Bill available to him when he came home from World War II. He needed a bridge from combat and having seen the world, he couldn't go back to the farm of his childhood. The fact that our government made a way for him convinced my dad that his country wanted him to do well and I believe our country did. I hope that we still want people to do well in America.

Many of the people that President Obama describes as needing a chance are like my dad. He grew up in an impoverished environment, the last of 11 children and the first and only one in his family to go to college. His three brothers served in the armed forces as well but chose to pursue careers where a white collar wasn't required.

My dad believed that college made him a better person and a better citizen and he passed that belief on to my brother, sister and me.

He often told me that he could make more money as a tool pusher in the oil fields of West Texas where no degree was required and sometimes he supplemented his income doing exactly that so he could improve the quality of our family life.

My mother, like many women of her generation, did not get to go to college. It was a great regret in her life. She grew up with limited resources, but both of her parents had college degrees. During the Depression, having a degree did not translate into cash. My mom could survived those years and concluded that college was a waste of money and time, that it didn't put food on the table. However, as she was dying of cancer, she delighted in seeing me graduate with a doctorate from Texas Tech. She helped type my dissertation. I felt her vicarious love of education until the very end.

My parents inspired me. I am an invested education junkie. As a single mom, I completed three degrees and post-doc work at Harvard Kennedy School.

I passed the love of learning to my two children. They both completed advanced degrees. Education was expensive. We all borrowed money and had to pay it back. Like my dad, we worked extra jobs but it was worth it.

So you can understand that I am excited to put what I love to work in a new way. On March 1, 2014, I started a new job in Washington, D.C. at ACPA, the American College Personnel Association, one of the longest tenured professional organizations advocating for student success on campuses.

I am deeply proud and humbled to join their 90-year legacy of excellence. In the midst of cost reductions and rabid regulatory compliance, ACPAers remain committed to each student's development and personal success.

In modern America, we haven't known a world without colleges and universities. They are part of our foundation as a democratic society and must evolve to meet the demands of this day and this time.

There are people testifying in Congress who believe that we can do away with all not-for-profit colleges and universities as well as the traditional brick and mortar campus. Many believe that education can be delivered via an iPad and that will be sufficient. Theirs is a numbers game. They are heavy hitters and they have captured the attention of Congress. No aspect of college will be exempt from examination and significant change over the next decade. I fear that we will swing too far.

I use cutting edge technology every day for work and communication with my co-workers, family and friends, but it is no substitute for the times we are physically at the same table sharing what we feel and understand. College is where everyone can sit together.

I believe that college is one of the few experiences that consistently supports a person in finding identity, focus and purpose.

College is a microcosm of the world, where potentially competing forms of national, regional, ethnic or religious identity coalesce into a learning and supportive community.

College is a place where we begin to celebrate differences and work together in spite of them.

College is where I was inspired to participate in the political process in order to promote the public good -- a lens through which I could see a new world view, make commitments and recognize that I could be accountable and expect the same of authorities.

In an ideal democracy, I believe we should all share these opportunities. Education reform should enrich them not restrain them.

It is up to us to filter the rhetoric.The reforms that are emerging will dramatically change the future for our children and grandchildren. We cannot afford for their hopes and dreams to be excluded from the conversation. I hope you will add your voice and, when necessary, your vote on the ballot initiatives that will inevitably arise.