U.S. democracy is under siege, pummeled by external and internal forces; marred by not establishing inclusive democratic structures, practices, and values; and abandoned by generations who don’t think democracy is worth saving. Stewards of Democracy will be a catalyst for deploying the powerful resources of public colleges and universities to address this crisis by reframing civic learning and democratic engagement as an integral, necessary part of every aspect of the baccalaureate degree, thus empowering all students to be positive change agents.
The talent, experiences, and perspectives of our college students, especially those not yet well served by U.S. democracy, need to be unleashed and expanded. We need our students to be full participants in reviving democratic systems and structures to effectively deliver on America’s promise for everyone.
AASCU colleges and universities are stewards of democracy, and our presidents, and their campuses are committed and ready to lead. Since 2003, nearly 300 campuses have been deeply engaged in the American Democracy Project (ADP). We will build on this work to educate and inspire students to be agents of change and to remove the barriers preventing higher education from investing fully in education for an equitable and thriving democracy.
Drawing on national recommendations from A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Futures (2012), widely regarded as setting an agenda for civic learning and democratic engagement, Stewards of Democracy will employ four change levers: Galvanize Leadership, Activate Student Agency, Integrate Civic Learning Through the Student Experience, and Invest in Generative Campus–Community Partnerships. Together these four will combine to produce new generations of publicly engaged scholars, civic-oriented professors, citizen professionals, and activists with renewed dedication to making U.S. democracy work equitably and functionally for the well-being of all the people and the planet. Throughout the project, the evidence of how learning from the diversity of people, perspectives, scholarship, and lived experiences will inform its practices.
Investing in AASCU schools is investing in ordinary Americans to rescue our fragile, fragmenting democracy currently under assault. It is both the only way forward and the country’s best hope. While AASCU schools may not be the richest sector, they quintessentially reflect who America is and can become. With 3.3 million students, they educate 35% of the nation’s 9.2 million students at four-year public institutions, 42% of first-generation students, and 49% of students of color. The students’ diversity is matched by the diversity of institutional types within AASCU from HBCUs to HSIs; from schools under 1,000 students to over 20,000; and in urban, suburban, small towns, and rural settings. Their reach is unmatched. If you educate AASCU students as agents of change, you change America’s future.
If we are to build a more just, equitable and inclusive democracy, the time is now. This is our purpose – to deliver on America’s Promise.