By Harry C. Boyte
For many years, Augsburg, with its mission of educating students to be “informed citizens, thoughtful stewards, critical thinkers, and responsible leaders,” has resisted forces turning higher education into a private benefit rather than a public good. When the public opinion group Public Agenda recently sounded people’s views on the role of higher education, they found little awareness that colleges and universities can contribute to the health of neighborhoods, or that they educate students to be problem solvers with skills of working across differences.
But describing these roles in focus groups also generated animated discussion and created hope. Many remarked that few places any longer teach such skills. There was the sense that the country is dangerously polarized and losing control over our collective future.
On January 10 at the White House, many higher education groups launched a major new coalition, the American Commonwealth Partnership, to respond to the civic crisis. It has support from the Department of Education, which released a new “Road Map and Call to Action,” emphasizing citizenship education.
Augsburg is the inaugural host institution for ACP, which seeks to mobilize colleges and universities in developing “civic identity, not simply civic activities.” By engaging in this exciting project, Augsburg is at the crest of a new wave of reengagement of higher education with communities and the world.
HARRY C. BOYTE is the director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College and serves as national coordinator of the American Commonwealth Partnership.