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Topics / Improving Schools & Systems

The Future of Undergraduate Education, The Future of America

New report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Nearly 90 percent of high school graduates can expect to enroll in an undergraduate institution, but only 60 percent earn a bachelor’s degree, and far too many are saddled with student loans that they struggle to repay. It’s an increasingly common scenario that the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education addresses in a new report released today.

Two years in the making, The Future of Undergraduate Education, The Future of America provides a framework for helping colleges of every type work more efficiently and effectively to deal with pressing issues such as quality, affordability, and completion. 

"What was once a challenge of quantity in American undergraduate education ... is increasingly a challenge of educational quality." – The Future of Undergraduate Education, The Future of America


With support from Carnegie Corporation of New York, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences organized the commission. It conducted interviews with more than 200 students and faculty members, consulted with scores of experts, and visited more than 20 Congressional offices. The results are practical and actionable recommendations, including:

  • Make degree completion a top institutional priority through the use of data to identify students in need of help and intervene with meaningful, personalized support.
  • Improve the quality of undergraduate teaching by providing nontenure-track faculty members with fulltime positions and longer-term contracts.
  • Establish a loan repayment plan that takes the recipient’s income into account to help prevent the borrower from defaulting.
  • Track students across institutions and make financial aid contingent upon satisfactory academic progress.
  • Restructure federally financed grants for low-income students (Pell Grants) to provide students with greater flexibility in meeting the requirements.

“Our recommendations include increasing training for college teaching, supporting the integration of data and counseling, providing non-tenure track faculty with stable professional careers, and employing reliable measures of student learning,” said commission cochair Michael McPherson, formerly of the Spencer Foundation and President Emeritus of Macalester College. “Our goal, which is essential and ambitious, is to raise both rates of completion and the value of the degrees obtained.”

Cochair Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., president and CEO of TIAA said, “Our report proposes practical and actionable solutions for improving undergraduate education and for increasing the number of students who complete their education with valuable knowledge and free from unmanageable debt. Our proposals are grounded in the firm conviction that every person, from every background, has the potential for success—and that they can achieve it with the proper training and preparation.”

Learn more about the report and download a free copy via the Academy’s website, read news coverage from Inside Higher Ed, watch a video, and share the findings with your community to spark and inform a national conversation about the caliber of education that American’s will need to thrive in the 21st century.