I am pleased to present the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ 2016 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.
Our policy agenda recommits the Association and its members to the national goal of promoting affordability by restoring the proper balance among the federal government, the states, and families. For three decades, the financing trend-line for public higher education has shown diminishing state support. This shortfall in public higher education support has been only partially recouped with tuition hikes financed through student borrowing. Not only has this trend put multiple cohorts of students in ever deeper debt, it has also significantly underfunded public institutions and undermined their efforts to serve their communities. To prevent further privatization of public higher education, AASCU developed a federal-state matching grant proposal in 2014. I am delighted to report that our original proposal and multiple variants of it have been introduced in Congress and have been adopted by major presidential campaigns. We are pleased to see virtually all stakeholders in agreement that the key to affordability is a genuine federal-state partnership and investment—not disinvestment—in the public sector.
Our agenda is equally as concerned about educational quality and the forces that may chip away at significant outcomes. Academic freedom and other essential traditions of higher education are critical attributes of our institutions. We view academic integrity and the labor-market value of credentials as inextricably linked; we strongly support better quality assurance and greater accountability for all institutions. In addition, while we support innovation and experimentation as legitimate methods of broadening access and containing costs, we oppose simplistic and untested policies that expose students and taxpayers to enormous risks.
As always, access and diversity remain cornerstones of our collective mission. This commitment remains only partially fulfilled a half-century after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Higher Education Act. But our institutions have made enormous strides during the past 50 years and they have helped create a more prosperous and just society. We will continue to advocate for greater inclusion of those historically under-represented in American higher education and oppose efforts to restrict the ability of institutions to serve all members of our society.
The Public Policy Agenda is the result of robust discussion within the AASCU Council of State Representatives—our public policymaking body—and within the AASCU membership. I hope it will promote more detailed conversations at both the state and the federal levels, and lead to policies that further expand educational opportunities for all Americans. Muriel A. Howard, Ph.D.President
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 theirrespective 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 an success. The following policy recommendations represent the framework within which public institutions can successfully serve the important functions that they are assigne in a financially sustainable and publicly accountable manner. Policymakers should consider public colleges and universities integral partners on state initiatives across th public policy spectrum, including P-12 education, economic development, health care, environmental concerns and social challenges. Download full version of 2016 PPA (pdf)
Sufficient and Sustained State Funding Remains the Central Policy Priority for Public Higher EducationThe 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 i 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 stakeholder 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 las 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 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 $1.3 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)