Our Future Hinges Upon Educating Diverse Students

09/17/2013 02:06 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2013

As I look from my office window onto campus this first full week of classes, I'm heartened by what I see. At a time when President Barack Obama is calling for increased accountability for higher education by tying federal funding to a new college affordability rating system, I am watching one of our largest and most diverse incoming classes of undergraduate students hustle from class to class.

The dedication and commitment of our faculty and staff to create an intentionally diverse student body can be seen everywhere you look. What excites me about the diversity of faces, faiths, and backgrounds I see is that this diversity truly is the image of the future of our state and nation -- our shared future. This Lutheran college in the heart of the city never has been more relevant.

To maintain and grow in our relevancy as an institution of the 21st century, Augsburg -- and all higher education institutions -- must examine how we measure outcomes. We don't need, however, to spend time rehashing already well-identified problems with President Obama's proposed rating system that would rely upon data on tuition, average student debt, graduation rates, and average income earnings. We already know two of the most significant problems with the proposal include how transfer students are counted and that earnings largely are impacted by gender and where one lives.

But poking holes in "how" we measure education is too easy, and rehashing the proven takes us away from the bigger questions.

We instead should focus on why it's more important than ever that education be accessible to many, why it's critical that students encounter throughout campus people unlike themselves, and why our campuses must mirror the complexity and diversity of the work world these students will join.

Anthony P. Carnevale, director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, commented in a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that the drive by lawmakers -- and now the President -- for accountability could push all colleges, including those with public missions, to further distance themselves from low-income and minority populations.

This is exactly what our state and nation cannot afford. We all must work to fill the gaps, and Augsburg College deliberately has worked to do just that by making this college more accessible to diverse students of academic ability. But it's not enough.

Now is the time that all colleges and universities must push themselves to do two things. First, to educate to the diverse mix of people who today are seeking a college education, many of whom are new to our communities. We must give all students of ability the opportunity to learn about and side-by-side with one another, to become adept at problem-solving with people of many backgrounds, and opportunities to practice and apply what they learn through experiences such as undergraduate research, group projects and internships.

Second, we must demand that our lawmakers invest in the schools that meet today's students where they are, that help students build skills needed to interact successfully with one another, and that support students in achieving all of which they are capable when given the opportunity.

It is through these two important tasks that we can collaborate to shape and build our shared future, and the ways in which we help today's students become tomorrow's leaders and problem solvers.

It is also through these two paths that we help secure economic prosperity not only for students and their families, but also for our state and nation. An educated workforce is proven to have more earning capability. More ability to support our shared infrastructure. More ability to be genuinely involved in the debates at the local, state, and national levels about the society we want to create.

More of our population must be equipped with more of these abilities. This is what a federal higher education plan should seek to measure and nurture. Together, we can preserve the American Dream for another generation. The dream of the opportunity to gain the vital skills needed to launch oneself forward into the world.