It has been a long time since there was a clarion call for higher education. The GI Bill was likely the last national call of symbolism and significance. The country, drawn out of a depression from the war, was reluctant once again to risk high unemployment as hundreds of thousands of GIs returned home. A bold and untested idea was put into action, making it possible for the returning soldiers to enroll in higher education.
The nation has been better off ever since. Higher education, at first an unwilling partner, also benefited as these students and eventually their children, the baby boomers, enrolled in large numbers. This massive investment in human capital changed the fate of the nation. It provided the best-educated generation of Americans. The question now facing the nation is: What will it take to ensure educational excellence for all? The continued democratization of our country, so central to a globally-competitive economy, is closely intertwined with the democratization of our education system. We simply cannot afford to leave so many young and working-age adults behind.
So how might the nation begin to tackle education at this pivotal moment in history? I believe the best way is a strengthened federal-state partnership for education. In a nation as diverse as ours, it is unlikely that, acting alone, either the federal or state governments can address this challenge. It will require a renewed partnership, or a new federalism.