A Publication of WTVP

In 1947, the President’s Commission on Higher Education issued a report called “Higher Education for American Democracy.” This report, generated at the request of President Truman, was a six-volume tome that provided the foundation for opening access to higher education through community-based colleges. The report is perhaps one of the most eloquently written government reports we’ll ever encounter.

“The law of the land, providing equal justice for the poor as well as the rich, for the weak as well as the strong, is one instrument by which a democratic society establishes, maintains, and protects equality among different persons and groups. The other instrument is education, which, as all the leaders in the making of democracy have pointed out again and again, is necessary to give effect to the equality prescribed by the law.” So begins the first volume of this report.

The report talks about the burgeoning demand for education by returning GIs, the need to strengthen education among women and minorities, and the demand for technical and vocational education. College education, the Truman report asserts, “must find the right relationship between specialized training on the one hand, aiming at a thousand different careers, and the transmission of a common cultural heritage toward a common citizenship on the other.” A college education is thus seen as both essential for a strong economy and for effective citizenship.

The report goes on to say higher education must be available to all who want to attain it. “Equal educational opportunity for all persons, to the maximum of their individual abilities and without regard to economic status, race, creed, color, sex, national original, or ancestry is a major goal of American democracy. Only an informed, thoughtful, tolerant people can maintain and develop a free society.”

These words express the raison d’être for community colleges and provide both the heart and soul for colleges like Illinois Central. When you look at our student body, you’ll find we have a broad mix of students—from traditional recent high school graduates to senior citizens who continue in their desire to learn. The age of our average student is 29. Community colleges are, by far, the first choice for minorities, first generation college students, and those who are poor. Community colleges, through their policy of open access, are the most democratic of all institutions of higher learning because we believe, like the writers of the Truman Report, that all citizens deserve the chance to be educated. And by educating our populace, as the Truman Report states, we strengthen democracy.

April is Community College Month. It’s a time to celebrate the fact that in this country we have a system of higher education that welcomes all comers. It’s a time to celebrate the achievements of those who’ve participated in a community college education. It’s a time to celebrate the faculty and staff of colleges that look for no other glory than the pride our students take in completing their degrees, going on to a four-year college or university, or going out in the work world. And, yes, it’s a time to celebrate one of the great institutions of our democratic society—the community college, the college of the people and for the people. IBI