President of the Council for Opportunity in Education
Tuesday, November 8, 2005
LBJ Student Center Teaching Theater · 2 p.m.
Arnold Mitchem, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education, has been a voice for low-income and disabled Americans his entire career. Because of his work, the federally funded TRIO Programs, the largest discretionary program in the U.S. Department of Education, have expanded by nearly 400 percent and now serve more than 872,000 students at 1,200 colleges and universities.
Mitchem graduated from the University of Southern Colorado in 1965. Before receiving his Ph.D. in foundations of education at Marquette University in 1981, he studied European history as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at the University of Wisconsin. He began his career in Milwaukee as director of the Educational Opportunity Program at Marquette from 1969-1986. Prior to serving as director, he was on the history faculty of the university. In 1986, he relocated to Washington, D.C., to represent low-income and disabled students nationally. Mitchem is the first and only president of the Council for Opportunity in Education.
Mitchem was a member of the Executive Committee of the European Access Network, as well as a former trustee of The College Board, and past president of the Committee for Education Funding, a Washington-based coalition of national education associations that includes the American Council on Education and the Council of Chief State School Officers. He was also a member of the National Advisory Committee of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Additionally, he was vice chair of the National College Access Network Board of Directors. In 1987, Mitchem was Martin Luther King Jr. -Cesar Chavez-Rosa Parks Professor at Michigan State University and held the Ralph Metcalfe Chair at Marquette in 1996. He has been awarded honorary doctorates from St. Louis University, the University of Massachusetts-Boston, Marycrest College in Iowa, Lewis University in Illinois, CUNY-Lehman College in New York, the University of Liverpool, England, and Marquette.
—Adapted from the original event program distributed at Arnold Mitchem's LBJ Distinguished Lecture
“Too often discussions of postsecondary opportunity today tend to gloss over or ignore the extent to which elitism provides both motive and definition for higher education. Very seldom, for example, is it mentioned that American colleges did not welcome the GI Bill after the Second World War, but rather, saw it as a threat to excellence. Similarly, few recall today that the organized representatives of American higher education in the early 1970s initially rejected Senator Pell’s notion of a transportable “grant” for needy students. Instead they favored funds to colleges — to be distributed to students who met each college’s criteria of excellence.”
“The gap between the rich and poor is widening. Students in the poorest quarter of the population have about a nine percent chance of getting a college degree, whereas students in the top quarter have almost a 75% chance.”
“We have completely lost sight of what President Johnson saw so well — the public benefits of investing in higher educational opportunity. Johnson viewed postsecondary educational opportunity as an instrument to create opportunity, which, in turn, would enhance social cohesion. Policymakers, today, too often appear at ease in rejecting the value of social cohesion.”