The White House College Opportunity Day of Action and the Obligation to Prepare Teachers
On December 4, 2014, I joined college presidents, charitable foundation directors, and education leaders at the White House College Day of Opportunity. We heard from Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, and Arne Duncan, along with panelists and students.
The messages in the speeches by Barack and Michelle Obama and Joe Biden were the same: Here’s where I came from, why I was able to go to college, why my college success and completion were not givens, and who helped me along the way. Obtaining a college education has always been hard—impossible for some to manage financially and a significant struggle for those who come from families without previous education. And now it is even harder.
Vice President Joe Biden painted with clarity the emotional significance of going to college, and he and the other speakers issued a challenge, particularly to university leaders, to recall the significance of their institutions for people without means, without previous education, who come in unheralded and might just one day become president.
What should be the outcome of this second College Opportunity Day of Action: Every person who was in that room needs to spend some time reflecting on the purpose of their institution and remembering that the goal is not always to save money or to benefit those who are already powerful.
A generation ago, we understood that well enough. Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and Joe Biden stand before us now. They asked us to be sure that a generation from now there will be a similar room, and our successors will be able to say the same thing.
While university presidents can have an extremely powerful effect on young people’s access to college, a burden of action must also fall on people at the mid level of university leadership. And an essential action to preserve college access is to ensure that universities increase their production of excellent middle and high school teachers. That is where UTeach and the commitment to expand UTeach come in.
UTeach is a national organization of like-minded faculty working at their institutions to provide a solid education for future science and mathematics teachers. We were glad to have a chance to attend the College Opportunity Day of Action and announce our commitment to expand the UTeach network by an additional five universities and to continue to support the 39 universities already preparing teachers in the UTeach model.
Our task is not easy. Resources seem more scarce by the day. But for those of us in UTeach universities, there is a clear charge and clear opportunity. We must prepare teachers for secondary schools who will ensure that the next generation of Obamas and Bidens will make it into college.