Public Purpose Magazine, Spring 2013
2013 Public Purpose Spring Cover

Upping Their GameTo meet today’s financial challenges—and tomorrow’s— AASCU institutions embrace new ways of workingBy Stephen G. Pelletier
Five years into the Great Recession, there is little that is new anymore about the “new normal.” Even where appropriations have rebounded, public universities live in a world where belt tightening is the norm. Common wisdom suggests that fiscal constraints will be with us for some time to come.

When the going gets tough, the tough get…strategic. With several years of experience in cost containment, public universities have learned much about keeping budgets in check. In that process, they have learned to be more adept at managing for hard times. Of necessity, they have graduated from patchwork or piecemeal budget cuts to develop tighter budgets and to trim expenses—often significantly—in alignment with longterm goals. They have learned to tackle difficult budget decisions with ingenuity and grit. Moreover, they are leveraging challenging budget conversations to affect deep, systemic cultural change.

And in some cases, they have created a transparency around budgeting in ways that engage campus stakeholders who haven’t always seen eye to eye.

The American Democracy Project Celebrates its 10th AnniversaryMaking A Major Milestone For Civic EngagementBy Kathy Harvatt
At a time when America is facing more than a few social and political challenges, it’s good to know that civic engagement is alive and certainly flourishing on college campuses across the country, thanks, in large part, to AASCU’s ever-popular American Democracy Project (ADP).

This innovative, non-partisan initiative grew out of the organization’s strong support for civic education as a vehicle for empowering active citizens armed with the requisite knowledge and skills to make a difference in their communities. Working in partnership with The New York Times, AASCU launched ADP in 2003, attracting over 100 participating campuses right off the bat.

Although originally conceived as a three-year project, ADP is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year at more than 250 AASCU institutions in 48 states. In that time, it has hosted 10 national and 17 regional meetings; developed 11 national initiatives; and spawned hundreds of campus activities, from voter registration to curriculum revision projects. ADP also laid the groundwork for The Democracy Commitment, a similar civic engagement effort for community college students. 

Negotiating a Consolidation in Higher EducationThe University of North GeorgiaBy Bonita C. Jacobs

Higher education has faced an economic storm over the past several years that has included reductions in state support, significant budget cuts, increasing tuition, and demands to improve academic quality and workforce development. In fall 2011, the University System of Georgia responded with a bold plan to consolidate some of the state’s 35 colleges and universities as a means to increase educational attainment levels while also creating a more efficient model for higher education. Georgia’s successful execution of this plan has yielded some valuable lessons for other public universities that are facing similar demands to increase their value in an era of shrinking resources.

In January 2012, the board of regents announced that eight of the state’s schools would consolidate into four institutions. Among them were North Georgia College & State University (NGCSU) and Gainesville State College (GSC). Located in fairly close proximity—about 30 miles apart—the two schools had numerous existing partnerships. Despite that, due to very different missions and campus cultures, the news was shocking for many. 

Helping Underprepared Students SucceedPresidents & PracticesBy Rita Rice Morris
The national conversation about graduation rates has renewed campus-based focus upon helping students succeed in reaching their goals—with the ultimate goal of graduating.

Achieving this goal is a particular challenge for students who enter college underprepared academically or socially. By developing systems that provide our students and their families with the support and individualized attention they need, we can help them overcome the barriers that may keep them from succeeding in college.

At Shawnee State University, an open access university primarily serving the Appalachian regions of Ohio and Kentucky, we have found the following to be useful guides in improving student success. 

SnapshotProject Degree Completion: Mississippi University for WomenBy Jim Borsig
Mississippi University for Women, coeducational since 1982, was established in 1884 as the nation’s first state chartered college for women. Since its inception, The W has been a radical idea, created to provide opportunity for citizens who were denied access simply because of their gender. The university remains true to its original purpose, as today’s student body reflects the rich diversity of our state and region and includes many first generation students.

The W signed on to support Project Degree Completion because the required commitment is consistent with the university’s mission and founding values. The W is proud of its tradition of access and affordability, while providing a high quality education.

For us, the decision makes sense on many levels. Mississippi’s educational attainment lags the United States. In 2011, 30.3 percent of Mississippians held the associate degree or higher, while the U.S. average was 38.7 percent. Statistics are often compelling, but for our state and students, much more is at stake. As educational attainment increases, so will the competitiveness and resilience of our economy. Most importantly, however, earning a college degree changes the trajectory of the lives of our graduates.