On this day 50 years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Higher Education Act into law. At the signing, Johnson spoke of the bill as the key that would unlock the door to education for millions of Americans.
For a great number of students, Johnson’s vision is a reality: college is a transformative experience that sets them on the path to a career, the middle class, and thriving lives. But for far too many students, our higher education system isn’t delivering what they need or deserve. As a nation, we can – and we must -- change that. Every hard-working student in this country must have a real opportunity to earn a meaningful, affordable degree. Our prosperity, democracy, and identity as a land of opportunity depend on it.
Today, college is more important perhaps than ever before. A high school diploma simply isn’t enough to meet the needs of the high-demand fields of the 21st century. While our population continues to grow more diverse, it’s critical to ensure that we serve all students better. To meet their needs, we need to focus on three key areas: first, dealing with cost and debt; second, focusing much more on outcomes; and third, driving desperately-needed innovation. Together, these changes represent the higher education challenge – and opportunity -- of our generation.
While we still have further to go, I’m hopeful. I believe in the vision Johnson laid out 50 years ago: I believe that education can, and will, unleash the vast potential of our people. And I believe that, with courageous and committed leaders behind this goal, we can move closer to fulfilling the promise of higher education. Providing real pathways to college and the middle class is not just an economic imperative -- it’s the right thing to do.