News Release from AASCU

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 2009-11-18

Contact: Gretchen Cook (202) 478-4665

PUBLIC HIGHER EDUCATION FACES POST-RECESSION CHALLENGES

State Colleges Must Seize Opportunities to Drive Economic Recovery

The economy may finally be on the upswing, but lasting effects of the downturn call for a renewed focus on how state colleges and universities operate in the post-recession era. A policy paper released this week by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) offers suggestions for how these institutions can continue their historic missions of teaching, research and public service amid continuing state budget cuts and escalating pressure to deliver the highest quality education.

“Although the economic downturn poses immense challenges, it also presents an exceptional opportunity to reaffirm institutional values and recast a new and invigorated way forward,” author Daniel J. Hurley, Director of State Relations and Policy Analysis at AASCU, writes in his Considerations for State Colleges and Universities in a Post-Recession America.

Hurley points out that state colleges are being called on to graduate more students—more quickly—as well as increase knowledge-based workforces, boost research efforts, nurture business start-ups to create jobs and serve as stewards of their communities by collaborating with partners in K-12, health care and the private and non-profit sectors.

“Expectations demand that state colleges must meet these lofty goals, without either sufficient public appropriations or increases in tuition charges aimed at fully offsetting state funding reductions, given populist anger about rising college costs,” writes Hurley, who will discuss the paper on November 22 at AASCU’s annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas. Though the recession is waning, states’ economic performance will lag behind the nation as a whole, meaning that any boost in state appropriations to public colleges is likely to trail even further behind. Funds from the federal stimulus bill have helped avert more brutal education cuts, but Hurley warns that those one-time dollars will soon be depleted and public college leaders must plan for a minimum of further near-term reductions in public funding.

Hurley notes, however, that the recession has spurred both an increased urgency and necessity for state colleges and universities to play a central role in the nation’s economic recovery, and offers four approaches for colleges and universities to consider:

  1. Focus sharply on the undergraduate student experience to gain insights on improving teaching and learning. Analyze students’ behaviors, aspirations and expectations as a means of focusing institutional priorities.

  2. Reassess institutional priorities based on state colleges’ public purpose missions to affirm core values and better define the fundamental role they play in their communities. Forming partnership networks with private, non-profit, philanthropic and local government can sustain state colleges’ historic commitments to public engagement.

  3. Review mission-critical priorities, implement strategic cost reductions and enhance revenue drivers key to improving state colleges’ ability to fulfill their missions. Capitalizing on campus assets—human, intellectual, physical and monetary—and finding collaborative opportunities is critical to future fiscal sustainability.

  4. Increase institutional transparency so that state colleges can inform policy and shape perception on key issues. Institutions should define accountability in appropriate and understandable terms for higher education so that other less appropriate measures are not forced on them.

“Ensuring college affordability, maintaining academic quality, and fulfilling the public purpose of an engaged institution in an era of increasing public needs and fewer state resources beckons a reinvigorated sense of purpose, a recommitment to the state college heritage, and an orientation that places students and communities first,” Hurley concludes.

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AASCU is the leadership association of 430 public colleges and universities Delivering America’s Promise through their common commitments to access, affordability and educational opportunity. Enrolling more than 3 million students, these institutions fulfill the expectations of a public university by working for the public good through education, stewardship and engagement, thereby improving the lives of people in their community, their region and their state.