The surge of reports and books on this country's educational needs--studies first addressed to the schools and more recently to undergraduate college programs--suggests a growing recognition that the time has come for a sustained national effort to lift expectations and achievement at all levels of American education. To serve pressing practical educational needs now and ahead while preserving and transmitting the best in our past, to stimulate and stretch the ablest while enabling all to learn how to learn and to reach their potentials, are massive tasks. Whether wider awakening to the importance of this responsibility will be carried through to effective action and adequate funding remains to be seen; but there are few more compelling challenges--for our economic and social well-being, for realizing individual human capacities, and for our long-run strength as a nation.
Probably no other society has ever placed such hopes in, or been so dependent on, the general education of its people as has the United States of America. In part this reflects the time and circumstances of its birth as a new venture on a new continent in the age of the Enlightenment--a bold undertaking to create a self-governing republic based on popular sovereignty in what was seen as a virgin land without established church, class structure, or preexisting institutional framework. From the beginning its founders recognized the necessity of an informed and educated electorate. Even before the Constitution was adopted, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which organized the territories and future states of the upper Midwest, framed the goal in law by providing that within each township one lot must be set aside for maintaining a public school. From colonial times into our own day, the many levels of education have been carried forward by a diverse range of institutions--public and private, religious and secular, large and small--supported by local, state, and federal funds and by a steadily widening array of independent associations.
For the successive waves of immigrants who settled this land and built this nation, access to education played a decisive role. Between 1845 and 1914 more than 30 million people poured into this country from Europe and many other parts of the globe. For six of those years they arrived at the rate of more than a million a year; all told, they added something more than a fourth to the existing population. There is no way the energies and abilities of this diverse human flow and their children and grandchildren could have been absorbed into the society and become as productive as they did without the availability of widespread and impressively effective systems of public education. Nor can the United States today provide comparable opportunities for all its citizens, including such numbers of new arrivals as it can reasonably admit, without replicating the earlier educational achievement on lines the late 20th century requires.
Indeed, it is hard to see how the modern American nation can avoid placing even heavier demands on education at all levels if it is to realize two primary goals--to enable individuals to achieve a lifetime of useful employment and to maintain the opportunities and the essential social cohesion necessary to a healthy democracy. The accelerating pace of change of an economy driven by science and technology and increasingly interconnected with highly competitive world markets only sharpens the need for skills of entry and for developing individual capacity for continuous learning over a lengthening life. At the same time, the pluralization of American society and the disturbing evidence that substantial sectors are being left out in its advance toward affluence demand more effective address to the needs of large numbers whom existing educational systems and practices have least well served.
To cope with these two primary needs, we must better sort out what can properly be asked of educational institutions and what problems must look for solution or amelioration to broader economic, social, political, and legal responses. For it now seems clear that we have been placing on educational systems more burdens than they can, or should, be asked to carry. These include duties for which schools are ill-suited (from police functions to multiple social services) and activities that divert time and attention from primary educational responsibilities. It has been temptingly easy to unload on educational institutions a growing range of tasks, to let particular interests crowd in upon them, or to use them as substitutes for deficiencies elsewhere in the body politic.
The recent studies of the schools mentioned earlier have presented an agenda and priorities for what the leading commission defined as "A Nation at Risk." Above all, they emphasize the critical importance of grades K-12. What goes on in these years provides the foundation for all else and will remain crucial throughout lives ahead.
These are the years in which basic skills in language and mathematics should be mastered and in which foreign languages can be most easily absorbed. Within the rhythm of learning Alfred North Whitehead sketched in his Aims of Education, these years should embrace the stage of romance and the stage of precision in learning--the stimulation and excitement of learning followed by the rigor and discipline necessary for mastery, including exactness in "the grammar of language and the grammar of science." Skills of learning, logic, and communication cannot be acquired by skimming along with the superficial or tracking the trendy. They have always demanded sustained attention, dedicated teaching, and hard work (including homework), and in our time they also require overcoming the short attention span and presumption of effortless solutions that advertising, TV, and contemporary entertainment have fostered. In the larger context they call for serious reexamination of existing patterns of teacher recruitment, education, certification, compensation, and career opportunity.
The immediate task is to maintain the newly generated interest in the schools--to assure the public support and private effort necessary to make a difference in the content and quality of basic systems of education, and to see that they reach all sectors of society, including those less favored who have been dropping out in alarming numbers, at great human loss and social cost. Demographic trend lines only reinforce the urgency of corrective action. With about 40 percent of all blacks and Hispanics in this country now under 19 years of age, and with minorities already making up more than half the enrollment in half the nation's largest urban school districts, the figures show 30, 40, and 50 percent--and in some cases more than 70 percent--falling through the mesh. And many high-school programs--operating under extremely difficult conditions, typically with underpaid and sometimes ill-trained or underqualified teachers coping with oversized classes--cannot provide, even for those who make it through to graduation, the requisite knowledge and skills for effective entry into either higher education or the job market.
A society as rich as ours, and with our constitutional commitment to equality of opportunity, cannot leave a growing percentage of its young undereducated for a sophisticated economy, seeing themselves as locked into poverty and chronic unemployment, vulnerable to the cycle of drugs, street crime, and violence, living in centers of misery and social tension. Apart from the human values involved, in sheer economic terms it is less expensive for the society to provide educational and other legal ways out of these conditions than to face the escalating social costs of letting them continue as seedbeds of destructive behavior--or of creating an embittered, hostile, exploitable, and potentially explosive underclass.
In the transitional period the immense challenge of improving educational quality and effective reach to all sectors requires the measures and funding necessary for affirmative action. As President Lyndon Johnson stated in 1965:
Twenty years later this challenge still stands.
Turning to higher education, we are on firmer ground. In any comparative perspective, its handling of fourfold growth in the decades after World War II stands as a stunning achievement. But the pace of expansion and legacy of loosened requirements stemming from the Vietnam years have had their price. Undergraduate education today shows widespread need for greater coherence and clearer standards, and there are formidable problems ahead--programmatic, demographic, financial. Here, too, the need persists to assure genuine access to the ladders of opportunity for all Americans, and to sustain the financial support that can make this possible.
It is easy to forget how recent and immense has been the growth of higher education in this country. Fueled by the most enlightened response a grateful nation ever made to its returning veterans, the G.I. Bill of Rights, and then by the postwar baby boom and sharp increases in federal funding, higher education opened its doors to greatly enlarged numbers of middle- and lower-income Americans. The three decades from 1950 to 1980 saw a 400-percent increase in enrollments and a 60-percent increase in the number of institutions. With expansion came the proliferation of programs and the creation of whole new fields of instruction and capacities for research. The overall array now totals more than 3,200 institutions enrolling 12 million students and employing 2 million people. Such unprecedented growth and transformation--including the conversion of former normal schools into state colleges and comprehensive universities--have inevitably brought strains on institutional standards, management of resources, and conception of purposes.
The last-arriving and academically most problematic set of institutions is the 600 two-year colleges created since 1960, which were opened at a rate of one a week during that decade. All told, community colleges now enroll nearly half of all students entering postsecondary education. In addition to academic subjects, they offer a wide variety of programs running through hundreds of vocational fields. Of greatest concern in these colleges are the turnover of students, the lack of sustained achievement, and the fact that--contrary to earlier hopes--fewer than five percent of students who complete the two years transfer directly to four-year institutions.
The nation's four-year colleges and universities have also felt strains of growth, and they face severe pressure ahead as the competitive struggle to maintain enrollments and financial solvency closes in on overexpanded capacity at a time of declining numbers of 18-year-olds and reduced federal support. Some shrinkage in the number of both programs and institutions is probably inevitable, but it is of the highest importance that a full range of liberal arts colleges and universities continue in strength. These institutions have long embodied the most distinctive characteristics of American higher education, and its diversity has found fullest expression among them. To a significant degree, their programs and standards have set the tone and given critical signals on what is expected throughout American education. To the extent that many abandoned foreign-language and other requirements in the late 1960s and 1970s and diminished the expected content of the baccalaureate degree, they undercut programs in the secondary schools. Their renewed leadership is now acutely needed for restoring essential standards and maintaining the centrality of the liberal arts and sciences.
As the country responds to real deficiencies in science, engineering, and math there is danger that--in our characteristically American way of directing energies and resources towards an immediate foreground problem--we will shortchange a broader spectrum of learning that could build a stronger foundation for lives and careers. For young people now entering higher education, who will face conditions and choices we cannot foresee, a demanding program in the liberal arts and sciences can provide a broader, more resilient, and, in a real sense, more practical base for continued learning and productive employment than a preemptive focus on first-job skills. Industry and other employers can usually teach the latter more effectively than colleges. The intellectual capacities that a liberal education is designed to nurture remain of lifetime importance in almost any setting--the ability to read with understanding and discernment, to think and write clearly, to organize and analyze data and perceive relationships, to frame and test hypotheses, to distinguish between observation and inference, to assess complexity and contingency, to tolerate uncertainty, to make judgments and take actions under conditions of imperfect knowledge.
In the current computer-oriented rush we can too easily neglect the crucial role of the humanities--with consequences J. Irwin Miller recently set forth for a business audience:
Beyond the mastery of essential skills, there are many ways in which an education of high quality can, and should, be carried forward, for every institution must judge its own capabilities and the needs and abilities of the students it serves. All education has to reach students where they are, but--having made promising contact--it should then proceed with a clear conception of how best to advance their capacities for learning and for living useful lives.
That this calls for collective faculty and administrative responsibility for rethinking the content and structure of the B.A. degree and for renewed dedication to the profession of teaching are central themes of a sharp critique of existing practices entitled Integrity in the College Curriculum, just published by the Association of American Colleges. After a highly critical--and perhaps overgeneralized--commentary on current curricular disarray, it sets forth nine "intellectual, artistic, and philosophical experiences that should enter into the lives of men and women engaged in baccalaureate education." These begin with "inquiry, abstract logical thinking, critical analysis," "literacy: writing, reading, speaking, listening," and "understanding numerical data," and then include historical consciousness, science, values, art, international and multicultural experiences, and "study in depth." The authors of the report give primacy not to any "set of required subjects or academic disciplines.... [but to] modes of access to understanding and judgment, that should inform all study."
The nine are clearly important intellectual experiences for any college education to include, and they represent an articulate effort to counteract the scattered and often unrelated curricular offerings students too frequently face. But two questions persist: Cannot these nine experiences be beneficially combined with, or even organized around, a solid and sequential core of substance? And is there not a strong case in this country at this time for bringing them to bear on a fuller understanding of the evolution of Western Civilization? Beyond its integrative value for our society as a shared educational experience, is not gaining a firmer grasp of how this culture and nation took form, where it came from and why it is as it is, of such lasting interest and importance to all sectors and ages as to recommend a creative union of skills and substance?
The study of this or any other civilization should not preclude sensitive attention to other cultures, or reaching out to all the creative energies and talents a pluralistic society can offer and encouraging any population group to know its own past, language, and culture. Indeed, any education designed for young people whose mature lives will be lived mostly in the next century will be remote from the real world if it fails to develop informed awareness of other regions, religions, and peoples. We cannot usefully coast along on the strange echo of Caesar's "All Gaul is divided into three parts" that often prevails on high or in the media--suggesting that we live on a globe consisting of the U.S. and some uncertain allies, our military or ideological enemies, and those others out there beyond relevance or understanding. "Those others" will soon constitute 80 percent or more of the earth's projected population, and they matter a great deal.
Nevertheless, the increasing ethnic diversity of the contemporary U.S.A. would seem to reinforce the case for an education that offers adequate grasp of the main lines of our own history and effective use of this society's prevailing language. Only thus can all Americans come to know the basis of the constitutional republic and the framework of law and institutions within which our public life is largely conducted and be better prepared to comprehend, to communicate with, and to advance within the larger society.
If given the necessary context, students from diverse backgrounds and varying ages should be able to gain substantial understanding of ways in which societies evolve and to weigh recurrent questions and moral choices of human experience through studying main lines of the Western story--entering into the suffering and faith of Job, brooding over injured pride in the tent with Achilles, or wandering the Mediterranean with the wily Odysseus. They can learn to probe the interplay of institutions and ideals, conditions and causes, conflicting interests and classes by studying the rise and fall of Rome, the growth of mercantile economies, or the agonies of slavery and its legacy in the New World; by tracing the slow emergence of political liberty and Parliamentary government in England and the balancing of interests in the framing of the American constitution. A sense of how ideas penetrate and come to dominate an age can be gained from the study of Medieval Christendom and its later expansion overseas; the sweep of Islam across North Africa into Spain and to the East; the advance of modern science through Galileo, Boyle, Newton, Franklin, and Darwin; the still-unfolding consequences of such transforming events as the Great Discoveries, the Industrial Revolution, the spread of printing, education, and systematic knowledge; the disastrous legacy of two World Wars in this century. These subjects cannot be properly studied without recognizing the multiplying interrelations of the world's major civilizations.
Thus approached, the study of Western Civilization will convey essentials of what the humanities--carrying the memory of the species--and some of the social sciences can contribute to understanding human affairs. But it must penetrate to the roots of things and pick up the interlocking layers of institutions and ideas laid down over 2,000 years by converging streams--Mediterranean, European, and Anglo-American, as well as Latin American, African, and Asian. A light brushing of art or history on the way to that major in programming or "communications" will not suffice. Only by sustained study of language, literature, history, geography, philosophy, art, music can a society come to know its inherited identity--the values and experience that have guided its development, the great debates and issues it has faced, the achievement and conduct it honors, the potentials of future economic and scientific advance, and what today its citizens, and others, have a right to expect of it.
As academic administrators know, it is difficult to persuade, or even prod, graduate schools into changing their ways. Yet the time has surely come to encourage scientists and other scholars not only to advance the essential foundations of their disciplines but to seek "fresh combinations" in teaching and research that will reach out to allied fields and broaden and revitalize instructional programs. A good many disciplines need to escape overspecialization and self-isolating vocabularies. Colleges and universities will increasingly be seeking teachers well grounded in their fields who have broader interests and vision, a greater awareness of the interrelations of learning, and the ability to communicate these larger realities to their students.
Here lies what may be the most pressing need at every level of education--how to attract into teaching careers in the 1980s (when declining job opportunities and discouraging compensation prospects dominate the picture) the very able young people who are acutely needed. In higher education, beginning in the late 1980s, the tenure bulge passes through the system, and after 1993 the children of those in the postwar baby boom will again begin to swell the numbers of 18-year-olds. It is estimated that as many as 500,000 new college and university faculty members will be needed in higher education alone in the next 25 years. Most of the current professoriate must be replaced with newly trained people in those fast-approaching years. Because the profession typically requires four to seven years for its advanced degree, we must act now to attract young people with the requisite talent, motivation, character, and breadth of intellect, those we would like to have teaching the next generation and providing leadership throughout American education.
The task requires an aggressive search and selection process, and it critically depends on the funding needed to sustain a spectrum of talent in both undergraduate and graduate education. It would be a tragic irony, and grave national loss, if an Administration dedicated to strengthening the private sector and building America's competitive capacity were to undercut the leading edge of higher education and, by arbitrary limits, particularly injure those institutions which have to charge higher tuition fees than their state-supported counterparts. A free society is surely stronger for sustaining a first-class independent sector in as sensitive a field as higher education. It should preserve incentives for private giving, recognizing that the percentage of total enrollment in independent institutions has already declined in the last 25 years from nearly half to less than a quarter. And it would be an additional loss of lasting consequence if inadequate funding were to deplete still further the thin stream of outstanding talent on which the future quality of the nation's higher education and research will critically depend. As Whitehead foresaw a half-century ago, "In the conditions of modern life the rule is absolute, the race which does not value trained intelligence is doomed."
The Foundation has long had a major interest in higher education and our contributions to it have been discussed in previous reports. Larger grants made in 1984 in this area and in the Foundation's four other principal fields of activity are briefly noted in the pages that follow, after which are listed all appropriations and payments made during the year. Once again we have been able to increase at least modestly the dollar totals of both appropriations and payments made in 1984. As in all previous years they have exceeded the five-percent payout requirement.
The year 1984 saw the retirement from our Board of William H. Morton, a man of wide experience and a forceful observer and actor on the human scene who, from the time of his election in 1971, has been a wise and helpful counsellor. The vacancy was filled at the Trustees' October meeting by the election of a distinguished scientist, teacher, and academic administrator, Frank H. T. Rhodes, President of Cornell University.
In 1984 the Foundation realized net income of $70,893,241 after investment expenses and federal excise tax. It made appropriations during the year of $62,275,953 and paid out $61,066,230. The market or appraised value of the Foundation's net assets on December 31, 1984 was $1,131 million. The total amount appropriated for charitable purposes by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and its predecessors, the Avalon and Old Dominion Foundations, has now reached $858,063,003.
JOHN E. SAWYER
March 1, 1985