American Association of State Colleges and Universities Launches New Initiative to Help Higher Education Lead for a More Equitable and Just Society

Kellee Edmonds
Vice President of Communications and Public Relations, AASCU, (202) 478-4662.

WASHINGTON (JUNE 1, 2023) — The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), which represents 350 public colleges, universities, and systems throughout the U.S., today announced a new initiative aimed at helping campus leaders create the conditions for equitable democracy to thrive. With the generous support of a $575,000 grant from Lumina Foundation, the new program will prepare senior leaders at the nation’s state colleges and universities to create rich educational opportunities for students to lead and engage in the civic and democratic process on campus and in their communities.

“During a time of increasing partisan polarization and growing uncertainty around the health of the American polity, fostering a stronger and more inclusive democratic discourse begins on our nation’s college campuses,” said Dr. Mildred García, president of AASCU. “This is about helping leaders build the skills and competencies needed to create the conditions for flourishing civic life on campus. This is part and parcel of our commitment to delivering on the democratic promise of public higher education, particularly for underrepresented students and communities, who have historically been least well-served and yet have so much to contribute to our national discourse.”

Over the next 18 months, AASCU will work to identify the competencies and skills needed to help leaders promote civic and democratic engagement on campus. The result will be the development of a new curriculum for civic education leadership that will be integrated into AASCU’s broader suite of leadership development programs, which has served more than 600 campus leaders in the last three years alone.

The launch of the new program comes at a time of deepening political polarization and uncertainty about the state of American democracy. However, public opinion research and other surveys point to encouraging and steady increases in voting on college campuses, suggesting a correlation between higher education and civic participation. Data from the 2016 Census found that turnout among the general electorate of 18- to 24-year-olds was around 43%, while college student turnout hovered around 48.3%, and has increased dramatically in the past decade. Research from AASCU found student voter turnout across campuses that participate in its American Democracy Project was over 70%.

“Our colleges and universities can do much more as community anchors and educators that prepare students to address the deep challenges we face as a country,” said Terri Taylor, strategy director for innovation and discovery at Lumina Foundation. “AASCU is particularly well positioned to lead at this moment, as its member institutions represent the racially, culturally, and economically diverse communities that makeup America today, including 45% of all Black undergraduates and 36% of all Hispanic undergraduates enrolled at public four-year institutions.”

The new initiative builds on three pillars of AASCU’s work, blending its deep expertise in professional learning and popular leadership development programs with more than two decades of experience leading on civic education through its long-running American Democracy Project (ADP) and integrating with AASCU’s student success programs that promote transformational education and institutional achievement.

AASCU’s highly regarded leadership development programs for aspiring, new, and veteran presidents and chancellors, as well as other senior administrators in the academy, help leaders gain critical skills and strategies to navigate complex higher education landscapes. ADP, meanwhile, has built a national network of nearly 300 institutions that create and promote civic engagement on campuses and whose work deepens the impact public higher education institutions have on preparing students who are empowered to be engaged citizens and lead in the future of our democracy.

As part of this initiative’s outcomes, AASCU will create toolkits for campuses to conduct pulse surveys to measure the sense of belonging on campuses among students, faculty, and staff, and develop a companion resource to equip campus leaders with tools and community to create action agendas to address areas of opportunity.

To support implementation of the grant, AASCU will collaborate with nationally-recognized experts, organizations, and centers of excellence, such as the Polarization & Extremism Research & Innovation Lab (PERIL) at American University, the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education at Tufts University, and the free expression group PEN America.



The  American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) is a Washington, D.C.-based higher education association of 350 public colleges, universities, and systems whose members share a learning- and teaching-centered culture, a historic commitment to underserved student populations, and a dedication to research and creativity that advances their regions’ economic progress and cultural development. These are institutions Delivering America’s Promise.

About Lumina Foundation

Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. We envision a system that is easy to navigate, delivers fair results, and meets the nation’s need for talent through a broad range of credentials. Our goal is to prepare people for informed citizenship and success in a global economy.