Equal Opportunity in Education

Shirley Tilghman is the nineteenth president of Princeton University, and is the first woman to hold the position. Tilghman served on the Princeton faculty for fifteen years before being named President. A native of Canada, Tilghman was educated at Queen's University and Temple University. She is a renowned molecular biologist, known particularly for her pioneering research in mammalian developmental genetics. She served as a member of the National Research Council's committee that set the blueprint for the U.S. effort in the Human Genome Project and was one of the founding members of the National Advisory Council of the Human Genome Project Initiative for the National Institutes of Health.

In 2002, Tilghman was one of five winners of the L'Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science.  In the following year, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Developmental Biology, and in 2007, she was awarded the Genetics Society of America Medal for outstanding contributions to her field.  Tilghman is a member of the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the Royal Society of London. She chairs the Association of American Universities and serves as a trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, and as a director of Google Inc.

  • Transcript


I actually would identify equal opportunity as one of the biggest challenges we face. This is a country – the United States – where the gap between the rich and the poor is large and it’s getting larger. And because access to education can be seen as something that can be affected by socio economic status, I think universities that care about equal opportunity have to make a special effort to ensure that we are attracting students, whether they have the capacity to pay or they do not have the capacity to pay. I think that’s a very large issue not just for Princeton; but I think it’s a large issue for the country. I think the great force in higher education in the United States has been . . . has really been several things actually, now that I think about it. The first, I think, was the commitment really from the very beginning of this country to free public education. That, I think, was a revolutionary idea in some respects. And I think it is one that has served the country very well until relatively recent times. I think if I have one concern about how that is now playing out today in 2007, I worry about the enormous difference in the quality of the very best and the very worst of our public schools in this country.

I worry about the degree to which our striving for free public education has really been diminished in this country. I think the same thing could be true about the great state universities. They were created so that every individual capable of doing work at the university level would have an opportunity to go to college. As those state colleges and universities are being financially squeezed by their state legislatures, they have only one choice, and that is to raise tuition. And as they raise tuition, those state colleges and universities become less and less accessible to those who are in the bottom of the income bracket.

Recorded on: 8/7/07