August 1, 2023

AASCU Responds to Chronicle Article on Regional Comprehensives

Email Subject: Letter to the Editor: Study on Regional Publics is Overly Simplistic

To the Editor,

As the president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, I find it imperative to address some key assertions made in the article, “Regional Public Colleges Are Affordable — but Is That Enough to Draw Students?”

The research highlighting student perceptions of affordability of higher education is important because affordability remains a priority that regional public universities will continue to address. However, there is much more to these institutions than cost alone.

The Art & Science study’s focus on the challenges facing regional public universities (RPUs) overlooks a number of their key qualities in a way that distorts—and diminishes—the true value proposition of these institutions. Research from leading scholars including Jorge Klor de Alva and Raj Chetty et al., clearly shows that these institutions excel in creating accessible pathways to social and economic mobility for first-generation students and those from low-income and underrepresented backgrounds.

Also overlooked is the value and return on investment these institutions offer. RPUs educate a much more diverse student body, one that more accurately reflects the demography of American society. RPUs provide students with credentials in fields of study that are in demand in the communities where they live. The research enterprise at RPUs plays a critical role in harnessing their region’s economic competitiveness. By contributing to applied research and scholarship opportunities, these institutions create job opportunities and stimulate investment in local communities.

Cost is but one factor in a student’s decision-making process and in determining the value of a college experience. It is by no means the sole determinant of their educational journey. Research that focuses solely on the cost of tuition will fall far short in fully capturing the comprehensive nature of RPUs. A holistic evaluation of higher education institutions needs to look beyond campus facilities, extracurricular activities, and prestige and to factors that collectively contribute to long-term student outcomes. To accurately assess the contributions of higher education institutions, a more nuanced analysis is needed — one that encompasses a broader definition of value that reflects the real impact of these institutions on the communities they serve.

Dr. Mildred García
President of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU)