by Brenda Bautsch
I attended an education conference last week hosted by the National Center on Postsecondary Research. While taking a lunch break, I stumbled upon an article by Steven Hill, "The China Superpower Hoax," describing immense problems facing China: air pollution, a potential housing market crash, political and business corruption, and a lack of human rights.
In the U.S. many families are struggling to make ends meet. The recession has affected everyone I know. Voters are expressing frustration in the form of primary upsets, Tea Party rallies and low approval ratings for politicians at every level. There is no doubt that America's political system has its problems. Gridlock on key policy issues is hindering our country.
But as I listened at the conference to some of the country's brightest experts on higher education policy, I realized that this conversation would not even occur in China. The conference focused for two days on how to improve outcomes for students who enroll in college and are placed into developmental education—courses below college-level that garner no credit. Much of the conversation dealt with reaching out to low-income, minority students. In sum, it was two days with intelligent researchers and practitioners who shared a sense of urgency that America must help every student—young or old, rich or poor, white or nonwhite—succeed in community colleges and beyond because this is America's future.
Contrast that with the plight of young people in China described by Steven Hill:
Young men and women I met in the cities had fled the Third World conditions in their farming villages only to accept the yoke of working in sweatshop factories or as bar waitresses, earning just enough to afford a bedroom shared with three others, four to a tiny room, two to a bed. Disposable income was practically nil and life was hard. Education is not a way out for most, since it is not free at any level and university is much too expensive for most young people to afford.
As election season in America reaches its peak of activity and campaign ads air more frequently than iPad commercials, I pause to think about the benefits of democracy-- the freedom of assembly to bring together bright minds to debate education reform; the freedom to have a demonstration at the Capitol; and the freedom to vote for anyone I like.
Brenda Bautsch covers higher education issues for NCSL. To learn more about legislative activity around higher education, visit NCSL's postsecondary page.