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Public Education and the Social Contract in an Age of Diversity and Division

Presented by Marta Tienda of Princeton University. Part of the UC Davis Forums on the Public University and the Social Good.

Feb 23, 2017
from 03:00 PM to 04:30 PM

Multipurpose Room, Student Community Center

Where does the social contract guaranteeing equal access to quality education reside? Not in the U.S. Constitution, which laid the foundation for educational inequality by delegating the responsibility for public education to the states. Nor does it reside in the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which has been used to uphold wealth-based disparities in public education financing. As states divert tax revenues to cover Medicare and other entitlements, the nation’s commitment to public higher education has waned. To make up for budget shortfalls, public institutions have adopted the twin strategies of raising tuition and recruiting out-of-state students who pay higher tuition. This approach stymies social mobility by favoring students from affluent families and limiting access to economically disadvantaged students, who are disproportionately black and Hispanic. Building on the premise that closing achievement gaps is an economic imperative both to regain international educational supremacy and to maintain global economic competitiveness, I ask whether it is possible to rewrite the social contract so that education is a fundamental right—a statutory guarantee—that is both uniform across states and federally enforceable.

Marta Tienda is Maurice P. During '22 Professor in Demographic Studies, Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University, with joint affiliations in the Office of Population Research and the Woodrow Wilson School. From 1998 to 2002, she served as director of the Office of Population Research and in 2002 served as President of the Population Association of America. She previously held appointments at the University of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin, Madison.