Everyone deserves a chance at higher education.

It’s a fundamental human right that benefits every citizen across the world. It allows people to create the kind of innovation and creativity that leads to greater economic development in every which way. It helps to diminish social inequality and, if we have more highly educated people, it will create more civic engagement, political engagement, and leadership that American society so desperately needs.

That’s what the Association for the Study of Higher Education, or ASHE, works so hard to achieve.

“The Association for the Study of Higher Education is the premier U.S.-based scholarly association that is dedicated to producing high-quality research relevant to higher education administration,” says ASHE President Laura W. Perna, “ASHE currently has about 2,200 members. This year marks the 40th annual meeting.”

ASHE President Laura W. Perna. 

Over the course of four days, the 2015 ASHE Conference will focus on a variety of topics aimed at solving this inequality crisis in higher education. “The annual conference is one of ASHE’s primary activities,” Perna says. “A primary goal of the conference is to provide opportunities for members to come together to present and discuss the latest research on important issues facing higher education in the U.S. and other nations.”

The road to achieving equality in higher education is a multifaceted one that the ASHE conference is ready to take on. The topics being discussed range from figuring out the roles of funding and advancing higher education research to how to use social media to connect research to policy and practice.

“The conference includes a few keynote sessions,” says Perna. “Five of these feature the results of yearlong collaborations between members of ASHE and members of ‘intermediary organizations’ – that is, organizations that represent policymakers and practitioners and that seek to use research to inform policy and practice. There will also be other panel discussions and multiple sessions to present results of research studies by ASHE members.”

In this society, higher education is an imperative if we want to have a community at its very best. Perna emphasizes this. “Higher education is critical to the economic and social well being of individuals and society, especially as more and more available jobs require some education beyond high school. With higher education comes numerous benefits to individuals, including higher earnings, better health, longer lives, greater civic engagement, lower crime, and more.”

Unfortunately, not everyone has access to higher education. “Despite the numerous policies and practices, college enrollment and completion rates continue to vary based on demographic characteristics like family income, race/ethnicity, and parents’ level of education,” explains Perna. “College enrollment and completion rates also vary based on place of residence. Many forces contribute to these unequal outcomes, including variations across groups in the availability of financial resources to pay college costs, variations in the ability to become adequately academically prepared for higher education, and variations in the availability of accessible high-quality higher education opportunities.”

One group in America that is particularly disadvantaged when it comes to access to higher education are indigenous peoples. “Indigenous peoples have certainly been affected by these issues. Dr. Cheryl Crazy Bull, president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, will be discussing these issues, as well as the role of tribal colleges in improving higher education opportunity and outcomes for this group,” Perna says.

Many of us are aware that higher education is adversely affected by economic and social inequality. And most of us know that there’s a lot of work to be done. But it all starts with discussion. And that’s exactly what ASHE intends to do with their 40th Annual Conference right here in Denver.

Because everyone deserves a chance at higher education.