Public Agenda Alert -- Thursday, October 31, 2013
This Week's Headlines
Helping College-Bound Adults
Town Hall Woes and Better Decisions
Engaging Ideas
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Helping Adults Who Want a College Degree Find Their Way Forward

Next week, we will release a new report on the concerns and priorities of adults who do not currently have a college degree but intend to go or return to school to receive one. This is an important and growing group -- the population of adult students grew by 51 percent between 1991 and 2011. Many times, these prospective students are returning to school out of economic necessity. Without a credential, they are not as competitive in a very challenging job market.


Unfortunately, our research suggests these adults seeking degrees do not have the information they need to choose a college or program that will best prepare them to navigate their futures.


For instance, many statistics that higher ed experts consider critical - like the graduation rate of a school - don't mean all that much to these prospective students, even when those statistics directly relate to their top concerns.  Over two-thirds of the adults we surveyed worry about taking on too much debt as they considering going to college. At the same time, during their college search, barely half believe it's essential to know how much debt a school's average student graduates with.   


As a result, many of these adults may end up in a school or program that does not meet their academic, financial, professional or personal needs. Our forthcoming report on the research provides concrete ideas for leaders in education, policy and philanthropy to help adult prospective students make better decisions about college.

We'll have more on the report next Monday - keep an eye out on our homepage and blog for the report's release. If you'd like us to email you the report directly, let us know and we'll be happy to do so.

Town Hall Woes and Better Public 

Decision Making

Every now and then we hear a broken-hearted story about the failure of town hall meetings. Last week, we saw it in a Boston Globe column: "In their current form, open town meetings aren't as democratic as they seem."


This sentiment is not unique to New England, where the format has existed since the 17th century. Most recently, we heard from public officials in California who see the shortcomings of their state's public meetings. Sixty four percent say these meetings attract complainers and "professional citizens" and almost a third say they only participate because they have to. Furthermore, they see the public as either too absorbed in the day-to-day, mistrustful of the decision-making process, or lacking in information.


But here's the silver lining: A majority of local officials are confident in their ability to improve the process. Many even feel they could implement a more deliberative public engagement approach which would be more inclusive of populations often missing from the conversation. 



We hear of deliberative styles of public meetings happening across the country, and they can end up producing a new and diverse base of engaged citizens. Hosting these sorts of gatherings develops a culture which recognizes that working collectively to address issues - in contrast to a top down approach - can create an environment conducive to real progress.


A community leader once described how his community members (many of whom are immigrants, minorities and/or poor) feel after they've experience better public engagement. "Once the light goes on about civic engagement - once you understand what your power is - it never goes out, and that is what we're counting on." 


To find out more about our work on the state of public participation in local government decision making, click here.


To learn more about how to construct productive dialogues that bring diverse members of the public together to work through an important issue, click here


Engaging Ideas

How do you solve a wicked problem? Engage ghouls and goblins in deliberative discussion! Bad Halloween jokes aside, this feature from Senior Public Engagement Fellow Martin Carcasson explains the dynamics of group decision-making and the deliberative democracy movement.


Are You Competent? Prove It.

A piece in the New York Times explores the sometimes confusing concept of competency-based education, an issue that our public engagement team is deeply involved in. 


The Myth of the Visionary Leader

Researchers are finding that some of the character traits that tend to convince us someone deserves power has little to do with how effective that person will be as leader of a city, company, or nation.  


This post from Brain Pickings blogger Maria Popova looks at a new collection of short essays and lectures on the science of decision-making, problem-solving, and prediction. 

An attempt to extrapolate and synthesize Census data to represent every household in America resulted in this beautiful and interactive 'Synthetic Population Viewer.'

About Us
Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate complex, divisive 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

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