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:
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
“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.