January 21, 2016


New Year, New Newsletter

Welcome to the Progress Report, the freshly renamed Public Agenda newsletter. With its new moniker, we reaffirm our commitment to helping communities and the nation find collaborative solutions to our nation's most complex, often divisive issues.
One of the issues we're especially looking forward to working on in 2016 has also turned out to be a primary focus of the presidential campaign: how can we best protect and build opportunity for all Americans? 

Last year, for our 40th anniversary, we announced a new initiative geared specifically to that purpose, Restoring Opportunity. Through our work in K-12, higher education, health care, political participation and public engagement, we have sought to improve opportunity for Americans. Through Restoring Opportunity, we will continue to work toward this goal in a deliberate way.

We bring to the issue core values around democratic representation, participation and collaborative problem solving. We know we have an important role to play in helping the country forge progress on this critically important front.
In the coming months, we will share our ongoing research into how the public thinks about issues of opportunity and inequality, and the solutions they are most willing to support. We'll continue our efforts to support innovations in education as a pathway to success for all. And we'll be looking for opportunities to support communities, cities and states in their efforts to ameliorate inequality and promote more equitable and robust opportunity.
I look forward to sharing with you our thinking, plans, projects and impacts as they evolve.

In the meantime, we've included below some new resources and ideas that we hope will contribute to solutions on a variety of complex, divisive issues. In future newsletters, we'll be sharing with you our thoughts and approaches to core issues in the news. Have something you'd like to see us comment on? Let us know, by emailing arizzolo@publicagenda.org.

Will Friedman
President, Public Agenda

New Resources

There are more than 500 competency-based education practices in the U.S. today. In the largest-scale survey of institutions designing or implementing these practices, we found that colleges largely agree on the essential elements for a successful program. Implementation, though, is easier said than done. For example, while the majority of those surveyed agreed that meaningful assessments are critically important, just 69 percent said they had fully adopted such assessments.

This report provides a baseline understanding and common language to guide the development of competency-based education programs which seek to assess learners based on what they know and what they can do rather than by the amount of time they spend in class.

There are about 1.7 million students that enroll in community college each year. Of those, 80 percent plan to earn a bachelor's degree. But most never make it. With partners at CCRC, the Aspen Institute and the National Student Clearinghouse, we created a short deck of shareable graphics with statistics on the broken community college to 4-year college transfer process.

Released last month, this research found that although trustees are well-positioned to help comprehensive universities address challenges -- like advocacy in the face of shrinking budgets -- they are worried about overstepping boundaries and sometimes lack trust necessary to make their thoughts actionable. We think that providing trustees with orientations and peer-learning 
opportunities can help them better engage in these issues.

To keep up with progress made on these issues throughout the year, be sure to join our higher ed email list. You can also keep up by following #TacklingTransfer on Twitter. 

News and Commentary


Tending the Garden of Civic Tech

Matt Leighninger takes stock of civic engagement platforms and asks what systems are needed to transition from the sowing of these tools to redesigning and renovating them.


Strengthening Public Engagement in Edmonton, Canada

Nicole Hewitt describes an engagement training program she conducted with the Centre for Public Involvement and how to embed these practices into government.

Is All This Polling Even Good for Democracy?

Will Friedman addresses polling's growing methodological challenges, which typically research superficial opinions, and how it should be used to spur better working relationships instead of an excuse to avoid democratic essentials.

PA in the News

Report: College Transfer Pipeline Badly Leaking 

(Community College Week, Tuesday, January 19th, 2016)


Competency-based programs share goals, frustrations 

(Politico PRO [subscriber content], Thursday, January 7th, 2016)


Public Colleges Lead in Adopting Competency-Based Programs 

(The Chronicle of Higher Education, Wednesday, January 6th, 2016)


Survey Reports Top Challenge for CBE Is Meaningful Assessment Tools

(Campus Technology, Wednesday, January 6th, 2016)



Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate divisive, complex issues. Through nonpartisan research and engagement, it provides people with the insights and support they need to arrive at workable solutions on critical issues, regardless of their differences. Since 1975, Public Agenda has helped foster progress on K-12 and higher education reform, health care, federal and local budgets, energy and immigration. Find Public Agenda online at PublicAgenda.org.

Help our nation make progress on its toughest challengesDonate today.