Jan. 12, 1965. President Lyndon Baines Johnson delivers a special address to the U.S. Congress to announce the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. His speech outlines four major tasks facing the nation:

  • bring better education to millions of disadvantaged youth who need it most
  • put the best educational equipment and ideas and innovations within reach of all students
  • advance the technology of teaching and the training of teachers
  • provide incentives for those who wish to learn at every stage along the road to learning

Fifty years later, with the reauthorization of ESEA through what is known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, the White House and the U.S. Department of Education renewed their commitments to the doctrine referred to as Full Educational Opportunity with the idea that every child in the United States deserves to have equal access to secondary and postsecondary education.

The need for that commitment is even more apparent now than it was in 1965. The Lumina Foundation indicates that 65 percent of U.S. jobs will require some form of postsecondary degree by the year 2020.  By the year 2025, however, the United States will have fallen short of producing the necessary pool of qualified candidates by some 23 million (Lumina Foundation, 2013.)

Illinois is reflective of that same educational attainment gap. Despite recent gains, only 41.3 percent of Illinois residents age 25 and older in 2015 held a postsecondary degree of any kind, leaving 3.99 million adults not prepared to meet the needs of the emerging job market (Lumina Foundation, 2013b.) 

What can we do? The Lumina Foundation suggests the most effective strategy for addressing the gap is to expand access to, and success in, higher education among various historically underserved constituencies, a sentiment that echoes LBJ’s sentiments precisely.

NIU President Lisa Freeman’s vision for the university and its service region includes a focus on local and regional educational access and attainment.  Ongoing development of the NIU Center for P-20 Engagement and the Northern Illinois Regional P-20 Network are just two of the programmatic reflections of President Freeman's commitment to expanding NIU’s role in terms of college access and degree attainment. 

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