The Access to Democracy project engaged community members in dialogues on the issue of access to higher education. People were asked, “Who is College for?” The purpose of this project was to improve access to higher education through changes at the state policy level as well as at the community and individual levels.
At the grass-roots level, localized Community Coalition Leadership Teams organized deliberative dialogues to increase public awareness, knowledge, and understanding of the issues associated with the question of “Who is College For?” The Community Coalition Leadership Teams will be organized in counties throughout the state and will be comprised of members of previously unrelated networks (e.g., librarians, educators, parents, students, media operations, and foundation, government, and business leaders).
At the “grass-tops” level, the information obtained through these dialogues – along with detailed, localized information about educational attainment and economic prosperity – was provided to Lt. Governor Cherry’s Commission on Higher Education and Economic Growth. This information has been utilized to directly inform policy decisions throughout the state.
The approach the National Forum has undertaken for this project is modeled on the National Issues Forums (NIF) process of framing an important and contested issue in public terms. Through the dialogue process, all perspectives are given equal consideration, the costs and benefits of each perspective are weighed, and policy implications are discussed. Dialogues will be supported by the dissemination of research and reports that underscore the importance of higher education to the state’s future. In addition to the NIF dialogue process, the National Forum anticipates incorporating video and documentary materials addressing higher education’s public service mission into the community conversations.
In light of the Supreme Court decisions regarding admission to the University of Michigan, access to higher education is a critical issue in the state of Michigan. It is an issue that people care deeply about, but a topic on which many people may lack adequate information. The National Forum believes that by framing the issue in public terms, and engaging in deliberative dialogues, we can better inform public opinion and positively influence civic engagement.