Is it possible for everyone to make his or her way into the middle class?
Dr. Frank Newman, most widely known for the "Newman Reports" (Report on Higher Education, 1971, and National Policy and Higher Education, 1974) and former President of the Education Commission of the States (ECS) debated this question in his third Sachs Lecture entitled Higher Education and Social Mobility. Newman's previous lectures focused on how higher education helps to create a more intelligent workforce and stressed the importance of civics. Higher education acts as the catalyst to provide the least well-off with a realistic chance to rise into the middle class, said Newman. "All Americans see themselves as middle class, from postal workers to the President," said Newman. "Why not have a society with no underclass?" The concept of working social mobility implies that some people should move downward. He said that more people make it upward than down to poverty, but social mobility does require some downward movement. "Can the bottom move to visible participation in American life?" Newman asked. There is growing separation of the haves and have-nots. The bottom isn't getting poorer, but the rich is getting richer. "We are in one of the longest booms," said Newman, "and we are wasting it." Crime and teen pregnancy rates are down, Newman pointed out. Crime rates drop when the economy is doing well. He believes that Americans should take this opportunity of economic prosperity and do something good with it. "Now is the opportunity, we're on the rise, let's go." Newman said that institutions of higher education need to figure out the problems and bring them forward. He said that institutions can't only ask for money from the government. They have to prove why government needs higher education. In order to get people to take notice of this urgent issue, Newman said "we need to make this into every issue we can-a government issue, a morality issue, a participation issue." "No one should be frozen out of this," he said. As long as people are prepared to participate, anyone should be able to get a job or vote. He stressed that we are in the middle of the wrong debate. We are still trying to "right wrongs." One of the reasons why the wrong issues are being debated, Newman believes, is because of civic disengagement. People think that their vote doesn't make a difference. He pointed out that it's hard to have a democracy if large portions of the population don't participate. "We need to ensure that higher education continues the role it needs to play in addressing societal issues," said Newman. America needs to integrate immigrants and eliminate the "pockets of poverty" which are areas of poverty in rural and urban settings. It also needs to eliminate racial stereotypes and to help keep groups from becoming stuck at the bottom. Higher education needs to create a "workable end" that doesn't rely on courts. Courts take too long and we will lose, said Newman. We need everyone to move to an evenly structured society. Universities need to create a meaningful balanced debate where all sides could be heard. They also need to give high schools a hand with remedial education and school-to-work programs. Some students think that they can't succeed in school, but with extra help, they can eventually earn a college degree. Finally, higher education must to do an analysis of what programs have worked in the past. Newman said that we should try to use these programs on a larger scale to help solve some of the society's urgent problems of today. "Policies need to be invented that do not get us back into courts, as well as recruit, prepare, mentor, and get students into schools," said Newman. "Change is coming," he said. "We need to be the architects of change, and not just accept it." Through thoughtful debate and without blind resistance, Newman contends that higher education has the power to be the objective center of society's issues and help to promote social mobility.
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