Now or Never: Planning for a Transformative 20s A Decadal Report and Look to the Decade Ahead

Table of Contents

  1. Letter from the Chair of the Board
  2. Section 1: Looking Back Over the Past Decade
  3. FY'21 Financial Data
  4. Section II: Looking Ahead to the Transformative 20s
  5. Get Connected

A Letter from the Chair of the Board

Dear Friends,

It gives me great pleasure to introduce you to the Decadal Report entitled “Now or Never: Planning for a Transformative 20s”. As our coalition crosses this 10-year milestone this year, we can say with confidence that we have taken great steps forward over this past decade to ensure that we were able to increase the scale of our impacts, strengthen our financial base, and, over the coming months, we want to work with you on a new multi-year plan aimed at increasing our investments in your institutional priorities through programs and collaborative ventures that raise hope and opportunity for generations to come. After all, the global coronavirus pandemic has surely taught us much about the unequal impacts of large-scale tragedy on communities of color and on the poor, and of the ways to enact worldwide cooperation for shared benefit. We are seeing with our own eyes just how tied we are to one another as people and as species, and our actions over this decade will be defining.

In terms of your membership dollars, we continue a multi-year trend of investing at least 70% of total expenditure back into member campuses which in this fiscal year provides a $22k return on your $5k investment. Please enjoy

“Who We Are: A Glance at 10 Years of our Coalition’s Work”

The history of our higher education presidents’ coalition is a shared history, and was founded on a shared vision. The idea of a state commitment to higher education’s public purpose, or “Compact” grew out of the important connectedness of the Higher Education Service Learning Consortium (HESLC). This was a group of 20 or more community engagement professionals whose work helped to advance the practice of academic-based community engagement in New Jersey. Between 2006 and 2011, this group researched the process of founding a state Campus Compact and, in 2011, the Presidents’ Council held a special meeting and voted to form New Jersey Campus Compact. In 2013, we hired Dr. Saul Petersen who, in his 8 years has transformed this organization into a recognized statewide contributor to the public good, and who remains its executive director to this day. Even through difficult times, we have held steady at close to twenty institutions from public, private, research, 2-year and 4-year sectors, and the coalition has made an imprint on programs, practices, and higher education itself as a positive contributor to community wellbeing right here in the garden state. Examples are, in brief:

Institutionalizing a Culture of Civic Engagement

  • Focus on Community-Engaged ScholarshipPublications and Roundtables
  • Convening and Publication on Embedding Civic Learning Institutionally
  • Established the Changebuilders AmeriCorps Program – 6,000 students statewide involved
  • Annual Community Engagement Student Conferences – 20 NJ institutions participated
  • Launch of the Thrivers Online Database – showcasing our finest civic scholars to employers

Developing Coalitions for Collective Impact

  • Developed a multi-year AmeriCorps VISTA Program with the Attorney General, Municipal Planning Boards, United for Prevention in Passaic County, Jersey City Mentoring Collaborative, Newark Fairmont Promise Neighborhood, Join Together Atlantic County, and others
  • Developed and shared internationally a higher education collective impact framework tool
  • Managed a multi-state conference on the role of higher education in collective impact

Engage-NJ: Supporting Partnerships to Lift Communities Through Volunteerism

  • Engage-NJ – www.engagenj.org – linking civic engagement to 21st century skills, in partnership with the Department of State’s Office of Volunteerism

Designing a Community Center Approach to Both Empower Students and Tackle Food Insecurity

  • Developed a new student success delivery system known as the Community Center – piloted with NJCU – and expanding across the state with funding opportunities such as the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education’s Hunger-Free Campus program

Bringing Interstate Partnership Opportunities and Expertise to New Jersey

Our New Jersey office now regularly partners with other independent state Campus Compact offices to share expertise across state lines, including with NY, PA, MD, IA, NH, ME, and IA.

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education Discussion Series: ways of enhancing one’s self-study by incorporating high-quality civic engagement efforts that align with mission (with mid-Atlantic states)
  • Faculty Development Series: Fusion Online community-engaged learning course development (with Maine) & Pen to Paper faculty writing retreat (with Indiana)
  • Eastern Region Conferences covering themes of faculty promotion and tenure, education for an inclusive democracy, equity through community engagement, civic engagement, and institutional effectiveness
  • CAO & Presidents’ roundtable series on higher education’s role in a strong democracy, strategic alliances, and other topics of interest (led by NY/PA), and
  • Environmental stewardship summits expanding to NJ and other regional states (in partnership with Main and New Hampshire)

Finally, as we face forward to the “transformative 20s”, we will engage with current and new stakeholders, to develop a reimagined business ecosystem that expands the scope and scale of our work. While always anchored to the public purpose of higher education and managed by a coalition of member college and university presidents, we see great opportunities to:

  • Create issue-focused interdisciplinary faculty and practitioner teams from across the state and region, focusing on issues of shared interest such as climate and racial justice
  • Roll out community centers with pantries and other provision of resources statewide in partnership with city mayors and agencies, targeting increased retention and success
  • Deepen community engagement pipelines and partnerships with local high schools
  • Utilize student community engagement to target increased postsecondary graduation and development of 21st century transferrable skills
  • Increase offerings through our interstate partnerships, sharing expertise in cost-effective ways
  • Create systems for accomplishing team projects with corporate, government, and nonprofit employees that address community issues of mutual benefit

Stay tuned for ways to engage and advocate to ensure our work continues to meet your institutional priorities through the next decade. As always, and on behalf of the board, we thank you for helping to make sure that civic engagement is an institutional priority in higher education.



Looking Back Over the Past Decade

In this first section, we take a brief look back through some of the key areas of work and accomplishments over the past decade. As Chair Henderson’s letter indicates, these 5 areas laid out in brief here are:

Who We Are: 10 Years of our Coalition’s Work at a Glance -


In 2017, we formally created the Civic Leadership Committee, a standing committee of New Jersey Campus, comprised on faculty and civic engagement practitioners, who are assigned their roles by their chancellor or president. The function of this committee is to advise the NJ Campus Compact state office of opportunities and barriers to prioritizing civic engagement as a transformative and universal college experience.

Each year, the committee meets four times to share promising practices and initiatives for partnership and replication across member institutions. The wealth of wisdom and experience in this group is second to none. They are leading their institutions to ensure that a culture and support for the civically engaged campus remains a priority. The current committee is comprised of the following people:

The committee, with Associate Director, Sarahdjie Monosiet, also produce regular newsletters, packed with stories featuring the ongoing work of our engaged campuses, examples above

Focus on Community-Engaged Scholarship – Publications and Roundtables

Dr. Petersen spent several years compiling resources to help bring recognition and legitimacy to the work of community-engaged scholars. Under the guidance and mentorship of internationally recognized scholars, Drs. Tim Eatman and KerryAnn O’Meara, this work was featured in 2015 in AAC&U’s Liberal Education and resulted in a Framework to guide institutional review of promotion and tenure language, written by a team of faculty and chaired by Dr. Petersen.

Tim Eatman, KerryAnn O’Meara, and Saul Petersen. Eastern Region Conference, 2015

The purpose of this publication was to provide a framework for defining, describing, and assessing community-engaged scholarship (CES), and offer examples found in areas of teaching, research, and/or service. With this purpose in mind, existing guidelines at institutions of higher education are included in support of a reconsideration of both the structure and culture of the campus, optimally resulting in the recognition and rewarding of community-engaged scholarship. We defined CES as follows:

Community engaged scholarship can be found in teaching, research and/or service. It is academically relevant work that simultaneously addresses disciplinary concerns and fulfills campus and community objectives. It involves sharing authority with community partners in the development of goals and approaches, as well as the conduct of work and its dissemination. It should involve critical review by discipline-specific peers, community partners and the public.

We then convened teams of faculty and representatives from academic affairs to consider ways of regarding community-engaged scholarship at their institutions. These took place at the College of New Jersey, Stockton University, Rutgers Camden, Drew University, Caldwell University, and New Jersey City University.

Finally, during our 2015 regional conference, we invited Chief Academic Officers to send a campus team to a workshop focused on reforming promotion and tenure and contract policies to better retain and advance diverse faculty and diverse forms of scholarship. This workshop provided both the theoretical and evidence-based rationales for reform, as well as shared practical examples of promotion and tenure reform for other campuses.

Convening and Publication on Embedding Civic Learning Institutionally

It is very important to us that civic learning is embedded deeply into academic and student affairs across the entire spectrum of the higher educational experience. We convened 15 of the best-recognized institutions doing this work as a developmental pathway, including Drew University and the College of New Jersey, to broaden our understanding of how these programs get started, funded, evaluated, and what kind of graduates they produce.

This resulted in a 2016 publication, Multi-Year Community-Engaged Programs for Students, which we use to guide such initiatives as the Changebuilders program (next section). The report uncovered a range of programs that identify as either curricular, co-curricular, or integrated, and was found to be one of – campus-wide, interdisciplinary, departmental, or as a discrete program. Interestingly, most of the programs use the freshman admissions process to recruit students to their programs.

Established the Changebuilders Program, With AmeriCorps

Now entering its fourth year, we have worked with literally thousands of students who are committed to taking their education into communities and who show every day by their deeds their commitment to advancing a vibrant and engaged democracy, while also clearly demonstrating the skills necessary to thrive as a 21st-century graduate.

As a result of our 2019 survey, we discovered that over 90% of our student Changebuilders believe that their civic engagement experiences are either very important or vital to their commitment to finishing their degrees.

Each year, one awardee from each institution receives $1,000 to be used in any way that the awardees believe supports their continued success as students and engaged members of their communities. A common theme and passion of the 2021 cohort of Changebuilders Scholars are one of working to ensure there is a nurturing campus environment for ALL students, given the added strain and fear ever-present over the past year, by completing projects to address Covid safety, food insecurity, environmental stewardship, peer tutoring, census completion, and more. Congratulations to the following public scholars:

Key Quote From 2020 Thriver and Changebuilder Scholar:

“As a graduating senior, I have been reflecting upon my past experiences lately and I am just filled with so much gratitude for everyone and every experience that has helped me to grow into the person I am today. Serving as a Changebuilder has been amazing, it is a wonderful program, and attending the conference with my fellow Ramapo Changebuilders was one of the highlights of this past year. I would be so excited to be a part of it again in the future. I also want to let you know how nice it is that NJ Campus Compact is working to help students apply the skills they have gained through service and honor their commitment to serving others, in their post-graduation plans. I truly appreciate that.”

- Claudia Wetzel, Ramapo College (Business Administration (BS), ’20)

Launch of the Thrivers Online Database

This publication and database are designed to highlight students who have demonstrated the skills to contribute positively to civic life and who will thrive in the workplace to employers and graduate schools. Thrivers are ready to show they have years of experience sharpening their in-demand skills through volunteering and working together to find solutions for today’s challenges. We at NJCC understand the needs of NJ employers, thanks to our work through www.engagenj.org and Changebuilders. Eighty percent (80%) of New Jersey’s employers struggling to find recruits with the transferrable soft skills that are necessary in order to thrive in today’s dynamic workplace (NJBIS, 2020). Are employers looking in the right places?


Beginning in 2020, we have taken the lead in convening an annual regional student conference on civic engagement and volunteerism. This year, via Zoom, we had twenty presentations and TEDtalks from students and civic engagement practitioners on such themes as “Keeping democracy alive”, “focusing back on climate change”, “maintaining healthy connections”, and much more. Viewed by almost 150 students from 20 colleges and universities, these are the voices of young people whose earth we as an older generation are only leasing. We must do everything we can to arm students’ brains … and then we must get out of the way and give them back their earth, meaning, their power to make decisions and take actions about their own futures.

Held at Middlsex County College with Saul Flores as Keynote Speaker:
For the safety of our students, faculty members, business partners and all who would attend the 2021 Student Conference, we transitioned the conference to an online experience.

150 Students Attended from 14 Universities

43 Students, Faculty Members & Business Partners Presented


Developed a multi-year AmeriCorps VISTA Program with the Attorney General, Municipal Planning Boards, United for Prevention in Passaic County, Jersey City Mentoring Collaborative, Newark Fairmont Promise Neighborhood, Join Together Atlantic County, and others

Managed a Multi-State Conference on the Role of Higher Education in Collective Impact

The 2015 Eastern Region Campus Compact (ERCC) conference advanced our understanding of the intersection of collective impact and community engagement. Higher education, as a vital agent of social change, is integral to creating vibrant, healthy communities in our towns, cities, regions, and our nation. This conference highlighted then-emerging theory and practice in place-based collective impact initiatives, moving beyond isolated efforts to conjoin the resources and assets of higher education with those of our communities. Framing questions included:

  • What innovative ideas are advancing higher education’s community engagement practices?
  • In what ways can the collective impact framework inform community engagement strategies and programs in higher education?
  • How are place-based consortia involving faculty and students in their collective impact strategies?
  • How do campuses assess the effectiveness of community-engaged scholarship, service-learning courses, partnerships, and community service activities?

Executive Panel on Collective Impact in Newark, with former president Gail Gibson, Mayor Raz Baraka, Chancellor Nancy Cantor, Chancellor Brian Strom, and President Joel Bloom

3. Engage-NJ – www.engagenj.org - Supporting Partnerships to Lift Communities Through Volunteerism

Now in its fourth year, Engage-NJ links civic engagement and volunteerism to 21 st century skills. Engage-NJ is here to showcase the incredible role that civic engagement plays in building a prosperous state. New Jersey is on the path to becoming the leading engaged state in the nation – one that links volunteerism and educational excellence to produce a generation of graduates uniquely qualified to be engaged citizens who contribute to making a better world and who can thrive in the state’s 21 st century workplace. Especially at our higher education institutions, when we develop high-quality sequences of community engagement projects for students to tackle in teams throughout their education, we are not only nurturing engaged citizens who will address issues in their local communities. We are ensuring these NJ-based graduates have the very skills that NJ businesses are crying out for in their recruits.

We work closely with our NJCC Civic Leadership Committee to develop opportunities of shared benefit and impact right across the state. As the graphic below shows how our Engage-NJ strategy features many connected programs and opportunities for higher education and other sectors to get community engaged.

4. Designing a Community Center Approach to Both Empower Students and Tackle Food Insecurity – Piloted with NJCC

The Community Center’s mission is to link students with resources that empower and enhance self-determined success. The center strives to provide equal access to such resources that are often taken for granted by those who benefit without asking. These areas of comprehensive resource availability include food and housing insecurity, nutrition and hygiene, professional clothing, mental health counseling, financial literacy, supporting diversity, and rights of the undocumented. Students who are food insecure tend to face an array of obstacles limiting their self-determined ability to succeed and, therefore, by addressing all issues under one welcoming roof at the center, we increase the likelihood of success overall. The term ‘community center’ is used here to specifically focus on the education ecosystem using an equity and inclusion lens, whereby placing community at the center is not only about access to nutrition and knowledge, but also about creating an environment where people feel and are welcome, equal and empowered to determine their own path to prosperity. Importantly, the center strives to minimize the effects that stigma can impose on us all, inscribed over the center’s doors, “In this Community, we are ALL needed”. Our Vision is of a community that is thriving because everyone is valued and everyone has access to the resources to determine their own success. Our goals of the Community Center encompass five main areas within the Community Center:

  • To ensure equal access and comprehensive awareness of NJCU resources and offices in support of students, especially the food pantry, as well as those resources made available throughout Hudson County
  • To eliminate the barrier to self-determined success that food insecurity creates
  • To connect all students who wish to tackle issues of stress and trauma with those trained in mental health counseling
  • To ensure opportunities provided to students based on merit can be availed of through the free provisions of our clothing RACK, thereby eliminating the barrier of financial stress of having to buy professional clothing for internships and interviews
  • To operate a welcoming, comfortable, stigma-free, event-packed Community Center for all students.

Over the next year, we are working to expand the community center model across the state with funding opportunities such as the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education’s Hunger-Free Campus program, but also through faculty research grants from NIH and NSF (more in SECTION II later)

5. Bringing Interstate Partnership Opportunities and Expertise to New Jersey

Our New Jersey office now regularly partners with other independent state Campus Compact offices to share expertise across state lines, including with NY, PA, MD, IA, NH, ME, and IA.

Middle States Commission on Higher Education Discussion Series: ways of enhancing one’s self-study by incorporating high-quality civic engagement efforts that align with the mission (with mid-Atlantic states)

The series of Guided Conversations leverages an institution’s community and civic engagement initiatives to better link faculty, staff, and student activities to the accreditation expectations of MSCHE.

Over 500 participants from over 40 institutions, including 15 from New Jersey, took part as audience members and as invited speakers. Invited speakers included President Michael McDonough and Lori Moog, Raritan Valley Community College, and President Harvey Kesselman, Academic Affairs AVP Michelle McDonald, and Dr. Awilda Colon, Stockton University.

The series kicked with a pre-recorded session Foundational Aspects of MSCHE: Accreditation Processes, Requirements of Affiliation, and Standards for Accreditation and be followed by five, one-hour guided conversations via Zoom:

  • Session I: Leveraging Community and Civic Engagement Initiatives through Accreditation Expectations
  • Sessions II, III, and IV: Community and Civic Engagement through the Lens of Accreditation Standards Wednesdays • January 20, 2-3 p.m. | February 17, 10-11 a.m. | March 17, 1-2 p.m.
  • Session V: Utilizing the Carnegie Civic Engagement Classification Application to Support Self-Study and Accreditation

The Guided Conversations included representatives from member institutions who have successfully tied community and civic engagement initiatives to accreditation activities and the Standards for Accreditation and the leadership of CCMA, CCNYPA, NJCC, and MSCHE.

Faculty Development Series: Fusion Online Community Engaged Learning Course Development (with Maine) & Pen to Paper Faculty Writing Retreat (with Indiana)

Fusion Project: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many institutions had to rapidly shift from in-person to online learning in the spring of 2020. The Fusion Courses, led by Maine and New Hampshire state Campus Compacts, aim to provide critical training and support for faculty as they continue to adapt to online teaching and offers instruction for how to integrate community engagement methodologies into existing curricula to improve the quality of course delivery and foster student engagement.

Through this faculty development course, learn how to infuse community-based learning into online courses to give students hands-on, real-world experience that will strengthen learning, create connections to the larger community, and improve student retention rates.

The curriculum for this program aims to:

  • Introduce faculty to best practices in community-based and problem-based learning pedagogy
  • Introduce faculty to best practices in engaged online teaching and building community online
  • Explore the potential benefits and challenges, as well as best practices, of using community-based learning in online courses
  • Introduce faculty to and model helpful online learning tools, techniques, and technologies

As a result of their participation in this course, each faculty member:

  • Identified a course in which they could fuse community-based learning with online learning
  • Learned about and select resources, tools, and strategies that will help to implement that course
  • Created a blueprint/outline for a future course that integrates community-based learning in an online course
  • Expanded the network of educators from across the country who are dedicated to community-based learning

New Jersey Campus Compact is generously covering the costs of seven faculty from NJ-based institutions to participate. Participating faculty are from Montclair State University, the College of New Jersey, Ramapo College, and New Jersey City University.

Pen to Paper is an academic writing retreat designed to provide time, space, and resources to guide faculty, professional staff, graduate students, and community partners working on manuscripts related to service-learning and community engagement. Pen to Paper 2021 has been redesigned to meet the needs of today’s virtual environment, while still offering participants the things that are unique to the Pen to Paper experience—individualized feedback from our journal editor partners and senior Retreat facilitators, as well as building your network and receiving peer feedback from colleagues near and far through plenary and small group learning experiences. This completely virtual experience, running through this summer, will include:

  • 2 facilitated half-day (4 hour) virtual workshop
  • Facilitated, cohort-based writing meetings occurring every 2 or 3 weeks—organized based on the availability of participants
  • Four exclusive webinars with editors of the leading community engagement publications
  • Individualized feedback from a senior Retreat facilitator on your scholarly project
  • Access to exclusive Pen to Paper resources

Eastern Region Conferences (covering themes of faculty promotion and tenure, education for an inclusive democracy, equity through community engagement, civic engagement, and institutional effectiveness)

Since 2012, the Eastern Region of state Campus Compact state directors have managed the biennial regional conference. The 2019 conference in RI, for example, was our 7th edition and, as in past years, this conference provided a space to not only honor the current work in the field, but to also to critically examine it. Innovation requires us to think and act differently. The field of civic and community engagement is challenged to respond, contribute, and lead change-making efforts on and off campus that improve our communities and democracy. As a result, our scholarship and practice must evolve. We are compelled to develop new educational opportunities and processes that provide solutions to complex problems and advance our common purposes of educating students for civic and social responsibility and improving communities.

The 2019 keynote was provided by Dr. Danielle Allen, as was titled, “Restoring Democracy: How You Can Help!”.

CAO and Presidents’ Roundtable Series on Higher Education’s Role in a Strong Democracy, Developing Strategic Alliances, and Other Topics of Interest (led by NY/PA)

CAO Roundtable: Higher Education’s Role in a Strong Democracy. The violent, insurrectionist actions of an angry mostly male, predominantly white mob, many of whom were college-educated, makes it imperative that we in higher education start this conversation. The state offices of the Eastern Region see our May 6 gathering as a start to a deeper, longer conversation that eventually yields change. Higher education must add among its priorities educating for a democracy that recognizes the dignity of every human, or this democratic experiment in self-governance will fail.

Presidents’ Roundtable (First event on March 31, 2021). Eastern Region state offices of Campus Compact hosted the first in the series of Presidents' Roundtables, which was well attended by presidents of New Jersey’s higher education institutions. This is an occasional series that is designed to bring presidents from across the region together in a structured but informal way to discuss topics of importance and interest. The topic for Wednesday, March 31 was about Strategic Alliances. This was led by Daan Braveman, President Emeritus of Nazareth College in Rochester and Josh Gewlob, Partner at Harter Secrest and Emery LLP. They both bring extensive experience in partnership development.

Environmental Stewardship Summits and Interdisciplinary Work Expanding into New Jersey (in partnership with Maine and New Hampshire)

This summit which took place this month (May 2021), is the first building block in a partnership that is expanding opportunities for interdisciplinary teams in New Jersey over the coming year. Campuses for Environmental Stewardship: 2021 Summit to discuss how campuses can play a leadership role in prioritizing and solving critical issues like climate change, food insecurity and other intersecting issues. Together, conference participants will consider ways to recognize and reward the importance of community-engaged teaching/learning, design action plans, and strategize how to institutionalize these efforts. This gathering will also serve as a vehicle for cross-state and regional collaboration, networking, and resource sharing.


New Jersey Campus Compact (NJCC) invested $402,051 (70%) of total expenditure back into member campuses through convening (virtually) members to share replicable and cost-effective practices, managing year three of our statewide AmeriCorps Changebuilders program, hosting our second annual regional student conference, building coalitions and funding streams for our Community Center model, and developing funding streams and partners to support the increased benefit of civic engagement activities across the state – at a value of $22,336 per 18 member campuses (compared to $5,000 membership).

As you consider our work for the next decade, with an ambitious sketch plan laid out in SECTION II below, please consider the following. There is a history of embarking on new forms of collaboration for symbiotic benefit. The International Consortium for Higher Education, Civic Responsibility, and Democracy is a global research network to support the development of democratic societies through education, and seeks to advance the contributions of higher education to democracy on campuses and in the wider society. Together with the Council of Europe, they spearhead regular international convenings, such as that held in 2014 in Belfast, Ireland. Dr. Petersen, seen in the image with Ira Harkavy (AVP, Netter Center, UPenn), Sjur Bergan (Education Department, Council of Europe), and several of the international delegation of 110 representatives from 25 countries, can attest to such foundations for change.

Section II:


IMAGINE WE DID IT! Time to reimagine and deliver on a transformative 20s

Everyone has heard stories of the “Roaring 20s”, referring to the exciting decade of the 1920s. The 20s was the decade immediately following WWI and was referred to as a period of economic prosperity and of carefree spending … but that all came to a crashing halt with the looming Great Depression that began in 1929 and lasted for over a decade, spreading across the globe like a virus. We have the choice.

As people emerge from the devastation of Covid, with new WHO estimates of as many as 6-7 million deaths worldwide so far, our generation can say now for sure that we have had our trial run regarding global collaboration in the face of catastrophe. We have seen and felt both the value of, and need for, mutually reinforcing cross-border efforts. Rich countries will only be protected when other nations are similarly protected from the pandemic.

And so it is with climate change.

So too have we allowed short-term thinking that results in the emergence of a billionaire class on the backs of hundreds of millions of people who may face a future of dire barriers to survival.

People, and all species, are interconnected within the delicate web of global biodiversity.

Now we teach. Now we act.

This is the decade that has to put in motion the kinds of changes that will set us on a path to a maximum of 1.5 degrees rise in global temperatures. This will require radical yet practical domestic action (such as the Green New Deal) and global collaboration (such as the Paris Agreement’s legally binding international treaty on climate change), aimed at equity, resilience, minimizing greenhouse gas emissions, and collaboration for a healthy planet. As climate envoy John Kerry said recently to the UN Security Council, “the climate crisis is a threat multiplier … we are talking about our security – every nation, every citizen – economic security, food security, energy security, and yes, even physical security” – Feb. 23, 2021.

This is where a transformative education can play its role in actualizing the transformative 20s. Within our educational institutions and along with our community allies, we can use the personal experiences and recent memories of the trauma of Covid to inspire students and raise their literacy and activism regarding this climate crisis, and of the unbearably unequal impacts of poor governance and tragedy on brown and black and poor people all over. Luckily, today’s students are not in the mood to stand by. Students must insist that legislators set policies that preserve and help regenerate the planet for all species whose planet we are merely borrowing. Indeed, this is a principle of indigenous culture that has survived millennia as compared to the neoliberal narcissism of short-term thinking and indiscriminate discounting of the value of future lives. The idea that policies guiding today’s investments by governments would place a lower value on the lives of our children, and an even lower value on their children, is simply farcical. Are they serious? This must be replaced by a principle of intergenerational neutrality which, by extension, will help with the right to life of all species. Thanks to excellent publications such as Roman Kznaric’s “The Good Ancestor”, we can point in a single source to the emergence of youth quotas in certain legislatures, commissioners, and ombudspersons for future generations, and laws protecting nature’s rights equally to people’s rights, as sources to imagine and to inspire.

To achieve this level of activism, we have to engage students in their schools through education about climate change. Gen Z and their successors must all become climate literate in order to become climate activists. Otherwise, from where will the source of motivation and agency come? But consider too the possibilities for these new emerging climate scholars to develop new career pathways, new technologies, to solve climate challenges in real-time. In this way, climate change education becomes a vehicle to enhance 21st-century skill development – skills that will transfer to uncertainty in our near future. Surely it is time to match parents’ and teachers’ motivation for education about climate change with the resources and skills to do so, as so eloquently laid out by the Center for Global Education at the Brookings Institute. Indeed, we need only look to world-leading efforts underway in Italy and New Zealand to feel the agency to do so.

Gen Z and their successors must also become civically literate, civically activated BEFORE they get to college before they can vote. And they MUST maximize their voting capital, just as people do their social capital. They must vote to ensure that today’s interpretation of the constitution makes leaders reflect their constituent’s wishes, pushing for such strategies as expanding the House of Representatives. This is especially so, given that the framers designed the House to apportion approximately 35,000 people to representatives’ districts, whereas now that number is 770,000. We must give Gen Z practical steps in order to align government action with the will of those who will carry forward the case for a healthy and just earth. Consider, for example, some insights in recent publications to which we might consider aligning our efforts. The American Academy of Arts & Sciences’ Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship produced the 2020 report, “Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century”, which lays out strategies pointing the way forward that include:

1) to achieve equality of voice and representation through our political institutions; 2) to empower voters in a lasting way; 3) to ensure the responsiveness of our political institutions; 4) to dramatically expand the capacity of civil society organizations that foster “bridging” across lines of difference; 5) to build civic information architecture that supports common purpose; and 6) to inspire a culture of commitment to American constitutional democracy and one another. (p.3)

Strategy six proposes that we use such vehicles as universal national service, and increased investment in civic education, to “inspire a culture of commitment to American Constitutional Democracy and One Another” (p.57). In order to facilitate these goals, and if this country is serious about placing an equal value on all its citizens, then we must advocate for a zero-dollar college debt to all those who serve with AmeriCorps or Peace Corps or their equivalent for a full year or more. In addition, the currently debated $50,000 student loan forgiveness of existing debt would change the lives of over 36m people and, by extension, would create upward mobility for their families.

To do our part to protect the rights of future generations to a healthy, safe and just community and planet, our higher education presidents’ coalition will engage with current and new stakeholders to develop a reimagined business ecosystem that expands the scope and scale of our work. While always anchored to the public purpose of higher education and managed by a coalition of member college and university presidents, we see great opportunities to explore the following areas below and to lay out plans where opportunity meets commitment. No doubt, over the coming months, many other opportunity areas will emerge in dialog with our Civic Leadership Committee and myriad cross-sector stakeholders:

  • Create issue-focused interdisciplinary faculty and practitioner teams from across the state and region, focusing on issues of shared interest such as climate and racial justice
  • Deepen high school partnerships with academe to enhance civic and climate experiences, as well as civic and climate literacy
  • Utilize student community engagement to target increased postsecondary graduation and development of 21st century transferrable skills
  • Work with academia to help design technologies and partnerships for carbon neutral cities of the future – that work for ALL their inhabitants
  • Create systems for accomplishing team projects and pipelines for students with corporate, government and nonprofit employees that address community issues of mutual benefit
  • Advocate for $0 college debt for everyone who serves as an AmeriCorps / PeaceCorps member for one year (see Schools of National Service as a starting point)
  • Roll out community centers with pantries and other provision of resources statewide in partnership with city mayors and agencies, targeting increased retention and success
  • Increase offerings through our interstate partnerships, sharing expertise in cost-effective ways, such as those laid out in the earlier sections of this report
  • Reimagine a role for citizen assemblies to democratize and empower civilian decision-making (note Ireland’s Citizen Assembly of 100 randomly selected members of the public which, in 2016, advanced a recommendation to legalize abortion that passed in a referendum; or the Future Design movement in Japan that is inspired by seventh generation thinking – (for reference, see “The Good Ancestor” (Krznaric), p. 189 onward)
  • Develop campaigns, tools and positions of authority dedicated to long-term thinking and the rights of all species in the future (note Israel’s Commissioner for Future Generations, Hungary and Malta’s Ombudsman for Future Generations, Swedish government’s Council for the Future, Wales’ Future Generations Commissioner; or Tunisia’s parliamentary youth quotas; or organizations like Our Children’s Trust; or laws like Bolivia’s Law of the Rights of Mother Earth, or the granting of the Whanganui River in New Zealand the same legal protections as a person (again, for reference, see “The Good Ancestor” (Krznaric), p. 176 onward)

Just imagine, many changes worth fighting for won’t be completed by those of us in our adulthood today. Yet, like the four members of an Olympic relay team, we can celebrate the role we play, if we act transformatively now, even if it is not us who finish the race.

See you soon,

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Board of directors

Dr. Sue Henderson (Chair), President, New Jersey City University

Dr. Harvey Kesselman, (Treasurer), President, Stockton University

Robert Boyajieff, Key Market Lead, Higher Ed, Siemens Smart Infrastructure

Dr. Rochelle Hendricks, Former NJ Secretary of Higher Education

Dr. Mark McCormick, President, Middlesex County College

Dr. Michael McDonough, President, Raritan Valley Community College

Dr. Lamont Repollet, President, Kean University

Dr. Steven Rose, President, Passaic County Community College

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