Document Type


Publication Date






Publication Title

Presidential Perspectives


More than 20 years ago, I was a member of a leadership roundtable in Portland, Oregon, that was working on achieving the ambitious goal of 100 percent graduation rate from high school. In the course of our deliberations, we finally asked ourselves why young people were dropping out of school. After listening to a number of experts talk about retention, we thought to ask ourselves, “What would the young people themselves say?” To find out, we invited a group of young high school dropouts and high school student leaders to an afternoon conversation. The experts had talked about various strategies and structures to promote retention. They discussed incentives for faculty and teachers and changes in the definition of roles and responsibilities; they talked about infrastructure; they talked about curricula. The kids told us that what really mattered was that every one of them wanted at least one adult who cared about them, who kept track of them, and who listened to them and expected a lot of them. The truth dawned on us—all those infrastructure and policy suggestions were really about creating conditions for kids and adults to connect in a meaningful way—for young people and adults to share something vital and very real—something they could work on together. The lesson applies as much to higher education as it did to K–12.


A Higher Education Presidential Thought Leadership Series

2013-2014 Series: Elevating Sustainability Through Academic Leadership