Consensus or Groupthink?

The last two years have seen the emergence of the closest thing in arguably 50 years to a national higher education agenda in the United States.

The convergence around the "college completion agenda" — put simply, the now widely held view that the country must in the next 10-15 years significantly increase the number of Americans with a quality postsecondary credential — has been driven by many factors, most notably the imprimatur of President Obama within the first weeks of his term. But arguably even more important has been the fact that the country’s highest-profile foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the most visible foundation focused primarily on higher education, the Lumina Foundation for Education, have both thrust college completion to the top of their agendas.

Potent as that convergence has been in driving both attention and significant money to the cause, it has not been without its critics. The concerns have less to do with the agenda itself — few strongly dispute the basic premise that more higher education for more people will be good for the country, its economy and its citizens — than with the groups’ uncomfortably close alignment with the Obama administration and their purposeful and forceful intervention into public policy deliberations, which foundations have generally sought to avoid.

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