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Illustrations by
Marian McDevitt


Keeping America's Promise


Keeping America’s Promise is a joint project of the League and the Education Commission of the States, with funding from The Atlantic Philanthropies, Inc. The project was conceived three years ago during a dinner conversation among a group of community college thought leaders and a representative from The Atlantic Philanthropies. That conversation focused on community colleges and their enormously important and urgent role in making good on the promises of opportunity and equity in American life. It was also about the need for change and the challenges in making change happen. In keeping with the original idea, the work of the project focuses specifically on articulating serious challenges that face America’s community colleges – challenges that need to be addressed both at the campus level and through state and federal policy changes. During the course of planning, the theme for the initiative emerged: Keeping America’s Promise.

The initiative commissioned a series of short working briefs about the changing characteristics of the community college student population, about the escalating demand for postsecondary education in the knowledge economy, about changes in the way Americans are going to college, and about gaps that exist across groups in both educational access and educational attainment. All of the papers address implications for community colleges. Complementing these pieces is a discussion guide for community college leaders and trustees and for state policymakers, focused on ways higher education policy may either support or thwart the American promise of opportunity and equity. These papers are provided as companions and supplements to the opening challenge essay written by Kay McClenney, director of the Community College Survey of Student Engagement and adjunct professor, Community College Leadership Program at The University of Texas at Austin.

The challenge essay, drawing on the data and observations presented in the working briefs, discusses the important promises related to American higher education, especially those involving people committed to the work of the nation’s community colleges. What promises have we made? What are the meaningful commitments we ought to make? If we are to keep these promises, what are the challenges ahead?

The League and the Education Commission of the States hope that this Keeping America’s Promise initiative will serve to enrich the national dialogue at the policy and institutional levels about the important education challenges we face as a nation and the critical roles that must and will be played by our oft-unheralded community colleges.