Forum Plenary Stresses Importance of Public Education
Forum Plenary Stresses Importance of Public EducationMichael Preston, Associate Director, Communications
The College Board’s 2017 Western Regional Forum kicked off this week in Orange County with a timely discussion about the importance of public education and the role that educators play in connecting students to opportunity.
“There is no greater work that we can do than to help young students get prepared to make meaningful change in the world,” said Youlanda Copeland-Morgan, the opening plenary speaker and vice provost for enrollment management at UCLA. “Education is at the core of equality and democracy.”
Copleand-Morgan—who is a first-generation college graduate—noted that private colleges and universities are increasing outreach to underserved populations at a moment when many public institutions are faced with budgetary shortfalls brought about by legislative decisions. But she emphasized that even in the face of declining state support and a shifting policy environment, public universities must continue to do everything that they can to serve as engines of social mobility.
“These are times of challenge and controversy,” she said. “But I refuse to let the politics of America deter me from my responsibility to keep the door of education at my institution and in our communities open to those who can least advocate for themselves.”
In her role at UCLA, Copeland-Morgan and her team have committed themselves to increasing diversity on campus across a number of metrics. She noted that the university’s most recent class included the largest number of African American and Latino students in the school’s history, the largest number of Native American enrollees since 1995, and a record-breaking number of low-income students (38% of the class was eligible to receive Pell grants). The LGBTQ and veteran communities at UCLA were also thriving, she said—all while UCLA ranked fourth nationally in four-year graduation rates.
“The notion that we can’t have diversity without excellence is a false narrative,” she said.
Copeland-Morgan then spoke about how a successful public K12 education system strengthens public universities in doing their job. “The ability of public schools to reach the masses and deliver social and economic mobility is key to the American dream,” she said. “Without the strong foundation provided by public middle and high schools, public universities can’t deliver on their promise of opportunity.”
For Copeland-Morgan, this is a moment for educators to rededicate themselves to their profession and its underlying values. “If we commit ourselves and our resources to creating educational opportunity for all, I have hope that despite the climate we see in Washington, we can muster the ingenuity of the willing in our nation to work to improve college education and increase education rates across all groups. We can deliver opportunity to all,” she said.
“So my challenge to you is that you continue to be committed to making progress in your community, your school, your college, or your university. Do what you can do to advance educational equality in your communities. Share your successes with your colleagues. Challenge the College Board to keep making progress on the areas of concern to you. We have a responsibility to make a difference.”
While noting that this work will at times be hard, Copeland-Morgan ended on a hopeful note by quoting the catchphrase of a politician who has just stepped from the scene. “Can we do this?” she said. “Yes, we can.”