I am pleased to present the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ (AASCU) 2017 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 been the narrative of 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.
America’s public institutions are gateways to opportunity for millions of students, but they need adequate resources to perform that function well. Unlike institutions with sizable endowments and tuition-setting autonomy, state colleges and universities have an average endowment of only about $5,700 per student, and a public obligation to contain tuition hikes. State support is therefore critical for keeping public institutions affordable. I am delighted to note that policymakers at all levels of government are increasingly recognizing public disinvestment as short-sighted and counter-productive to the national interest. It is heartening to report that multiple variants of AASCU’s original proposal for a federal-state partnership have been introduced in Congress. We are pleased to see the
development of a broad consensus that the key to affordability is a genuine federal-state partnership and investment—not disinvestment—in the public sector.
Our agenda is equally concerned about educational quality and the forces that may chip away at rigor, integrity and, ultimately, the meaning and value of academic credentials. 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, we support innovation and experimentation as legitimate methods of broadening access and containing costs, but in order to protect students and taxpayers, we urge great caution in the design of various experiments.
As always, access and diversity remain cornerstones of our collective mission. This commitment remains only partially fulfilled more than 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 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.
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