Higher Education for American Democracy, Report

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Full Title:

Higher Education for American Democracy, A Report of The President’s Commission on Higher Education

Excerpt:

The Task of This Commission

The President’s Commission on Higher Education has been charged with the task of defining the responsibilities of colleges and universities in American democracy and in international affairs—and, more specifically, with reexamining the objectives, methods, and facilities of higher education in the United States in the light of the social role it has to play.

The colleges and universities themselves had begun this process of reexamination and reappraisal before the outbreak of World War II. For many years they had been healthily dissatisfied with their own accomplishments, significant though these have been. Educational leaders were troubled by an uneasy sense of shortcoming. They felt that somehow the colleges had not kept pace with changing social conditions, that the programs of higher education would have to be repatterned if they were to prepare youth to live satisfyingly and effectively in contemporary society.

PREFACE

The Task of This Commission

The President’s Commission on Higher Education has been charged with the task of defining the responsibilities of colleges and universities in American democracy and in international affairs—and, more specifically, with reexamining the objectives, methods, and facilities of higher education in the United States in the light of the social role it has to play.

The colleges and universities themselves had begun this process of reexamination and reappraisal before the outbreak of World War II. For many years they had been healthily dissatisfied with their own accomplishments, significant though these have been. Educational leaders were troubled by an uneasy sense of shortcoming. They felt that somehow the colleges had not kept pace with changing social conditions, that the programs of higher education would have to be repatterned if they were to prepare youth to live satisfyingly and effectively in contemporary society.

One factor contributing to this sense of inadequacy has been the steadily increasing number of young people who seek a college education. As the national economy became industrialized and more complex, as production increased and national resources multiplied, the American people came in ever greater numbers to feel the need of higher education for their children. More and more American youth attended colleges and universities, but resources and equipment and curriculum did not keep pace with the growing enrollment or with the increasing diversity of needs and interests among the students. World War II brought a temporary falling off in enrollment, but with the war’s end and the enactment of Public Laws 16 and 346, the “Veterans’ Rehabilitation Act,” and “The G. I. Bill of Rights,” the acceleration has resumed. The increase in numbers is far beyond the capacity of higher education in teachers, in buildings, and in equipment. Moreover, the number of veterans availing themselves of veterans’ educational benefits falls short of the numbers that records of military personnel show could benefit from higher education. Statistics reveal that a doubling of the 1947–48 enrollment in colleges and universities will be entirely possible within 10 to 15 years, if facilities and financial means are provided.

This tendency of the American people to seek higher education in ever greater numbers has grown concurrently with an increasingly critical need for such education. To this need several developments have contributed:

(a) Science and invention have diversified natural resources, have multiplied new devices and techniques of production. These have altered in radical ways the interpersonal and intergroup relations of Americans in their work, in their play, and in their duties as citizens. As a consequence, new skills and greater maturity are required of youth as they enter upon their adult roles. And the increasing complexity that technological progress has brought to our society has made a broader understanding of social processes and problems essential for effective living.

(b) The people of America are drawn from the peoples of the entire world. They live in contrasting regions. They are of different occupations, diverse faiths, divergent cultural backgrounds, and varied interests. The American Nation is not only a union of 48 different States; it is also a union of an indefinite number of diverse groups of varying size. Of and among these diversities our free society seeks to create a dynamic unity. Where there is economic, cultural, or religious tension, we undertake to effect democratic reconciliation, so as to make of the national life one continuous process of interpersonal, intervocational, and intercultural cooperation.

(c) With World War II and its conclusion has come a fundamental shift in the orientation of American foreign policy. Owing to the inescapable pressure of events, the Nation’s traditional isolationism has been displaced by a new sense of responsibility in world affairs. The need for maintaining our democracy at peace with the rest of the world has compelled our initiative in the formation of the United Nations, and America’s role in this and other agencies of international cooperation requires of our citizens a knowledge of other peoples—of their political and economic systems, their social and cultural institutions—such as has not hitherto been so urgent. (d) The coming of the atomic age, with its ambivalent promise of tremendous good or tremendous evil for mankind, has intensified the uncertainties of the future. It has deepened and broadened the responsibilities of higher education for anticipating and preparing for the social and economic changes that will come with the application of atomic energy to industrial uses. At the same time it has underscored the need for education and research for the self-protection of our democracy, for demonstrating the merits of our way of life to other peoples.

Thus American colleges and universities face the need both for improving the performance of their traditional tasks and for assuming the new tasks created for them by the new internal conditions and easternal relations under which the American people are striving to live and to grow as a free people. – It is against the background of these conditions that the President’s Commission has been called upon to reexamine higher education in the United States. In doing this, the Commission has undertaken to appraise our most urgent national needs, to define in terms of those needs the major goals toward which higher education should move, and to indicate certain changes in educational policy and program which it considers necessary for the attainment of these goals. A total of six volumes will be issued by the Commission under the general title, “Higher Education for American Democracy.” This volume, “Establishing the Goals,” sets the general pattern for the entire report.

Volume 2, “Equalizing and Expanding Individual Opportunity,” is concerned with the barriers to equal opportunity for higher education and with the means of removing them.

Volume 3, “Organizing Higher Education,” presents an appraisal of organizational problems at the national, State, and local levels.

Volume 4, “Staffing Higher Education,” is the Commission’s recommendation for a greatly expanded and improved program for the preparation and in-service education of faculty personnel.

Volume 5, “Financing Higher Education,” is an appraisal of fiscal needs and policies necessary for the program of higher education recommended by the Commission.

Volume 6, “Resource Data,” is a compilation of some of the basic information used by the Commission in preparing its reports.

Source Citation:

President’s Commission on Higher Education. 1947. Higher Education for American Democracy, A Report of The President’s Commission on Higher Education. Report.

Cite this page:

President's Commission on Higher Education. 1947. "Higher Education for American Democracy, Report." History of Higher Education. https://higheredhistory.gmu.edu/primary-sources/higher-education-for-american-democracy-report/