• 2015 Public Policy Agenda

    From the President

    I am pleased to present the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ 2015 Public Policy Agenda. This annual statement of principles and policy positions guides the association’s advocacy efforts on current and developing issues at the federal and state levels. 
    2015 AASCU Public Policy Agenda
    America’s public colleges and universities continue to play a central role in providing access to quality higher education for the vast majority of students. Yet, even as the public and policymakers are becoming increasingly concerned about affordability and the student debt crisis, the 30-year trend of privatization of public higher education— and the shifting of costs from the states to students—continues unabated. 

    Last year, AASCU initiated a major effort to mitigate and reverse this disturbing trend through a proposal for a federal matching grant program to incentivize greater state investment in affordable public higher education, the Federal-State College Affordability Partnership. I am delighted to report that in the short year since I first described it in last year’s Public Policy Agenda, our proposal has been adopted in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee’s bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965. In addition, the Obama Administration and the Washington policy community have also coalesced around the central vision of our proposal, namely, that the only national solution to the higher education affordability crisis is through incentivizing states to once again contribute their fair share. 

    Another important AASCU accomplishment worth noting is the Senate bill’s authorization of a “student unit-record” system, a longstanding association priority, with very strong privacy protections that we specifically recommended. We believe the proposed framework will generate far more accurate data about institutional performance while at the same time providing the strongest privacy protections for students. 

    These important provisions capture the essence of the challenges facing public institutions: sufficient resources to do the job, and evidence that those resources are used in a wise and accountable manner. In this Public Policy Agenda, as always, AASCU fully embraces both of these challenges as pillars of proper policy. We will continue to advocate for proper funding of higher education and for proper accountability for those funds. 

    The shifting political landscape in Washington and the states will surely complicate the policy process, but we believe that higher education access and opportunity are values that transcend partisan differences. We are committed to working constructively with the administration and Congress in Washington, and with policymakers in state capitals, to sustain America’s promise of a better future for all through improved educational opportunities.

    The 2015 Public Policy Agenda will serve as a point of reference for this effort. We hope that this written framework will assist our members, other interested organizations, as well as federal and state policymakers in navigating the challenges ahead. The association and its members are committed to ensuring that the public purpose of public higher education is served. 

    Muriel A. Howard 

    Public Colleges and Universities are Essential Partners in Meeting State Needs and Objectives

    America’s state colleges and universities serve a critical role as the linchpin of the nation’s human capital development strategy. Not only are they the main venue for broad and affordable access to high quality higher education for some four million students, they also serve as engines of civic engagement and economic growth for their communities and the nation. Public colleges and universities are unique institutions of higher education in that they balance their primary mission, the advancement of learning, with specific service obligations to the citizens of their respective states. The pursuit of academic excellence while remaining academically and financially accessible are defining characteristics of state colleges and universities. Public institutions are gateways to educational opportunity and economic success for all Americans, and serve as proud and indispensable venues for minority access and success. The following policy recommendations represent the framework within which public institutions can successfully serve the important functions that they are assigned in a financially sustainable and publicly accountable manner. Policymakers should consider public colleges and universities integral partners on state initiatives across the public policy spectrum, including P-12 education, economic development, health care, environmental concerns and social challenges. Download full version of 2015 PPA (pdf)

    The State Role 

    The top priority for American public higher education leaders today must be a relentless call for states to provide sufficient, consistent and sustained state funding in order to keep college affordable for all students, especially those from modest economic circumstances. The majority of all other higher education policy issues in recent years stems from changes in college affordability, among them: educational attainment, institutional productivity, cost containment, financial aid, innovation in program delivery, and student persistence and completion. While all stakeholders play a role in financing a public college education—the federal government, states, institutions and students—the primary driver of higher tuition prices over the last several decades has been the state-to-student cost shift borne out of state disinvestment in public higher education. For several decades, per-student state support for public higher education has eroded, a trend accelerated by the economic downturn of the last several years. Read more (pdf)

    The Federal Role

    The federal government has historically played a significant, but secondary, role in higher education finance through bridging the gap between college prices and family means. Since the 1980s, as many workers’ real incomes have stagnated and inflation adjusted college costs have escalated, the gap between American families’ ability to pay and college costs has widened to unprecedented levels. The shortfall between resources available to students and college costs is identified through a federally defined need analysis that is intended to equitably divide responsibility for the total cost of attending college among students, families, states, the federal government and other stakeholders. Federal student aid, in the form of grants, loans and work-study, is then made available—based on federal budgetary choices—to fill the gap. Over the past three decades, despite significant funding increases on the part of the federal government, the federal aid package has shifted decisively in the direction of loans and debt-financing of higher education. This trend, in turn, has created a national educational debt crisis, with an outstanding volume that now exceeds $1 trillion. As public concern about educational debt has grown, policymakers are attempting to devise financing alternatives. The following broad areas of federal policy would be key components of any overhaul of federal student aid programs. Read more (pdf)