Public Research Universities: Why They Matter


Higher education. It’s important. Really important. College graduates have better job opportunities,
suffer less from unemployment, and participate in civic life more actively than they would
with just a high school diploma. But the price of college tuition has gone
up – a lot. And at public research universities – or PRUs
– that’s because state funding has gone down. A lot. What this means is that the institutions that
educate nearly 4 million students each year and conduct much of the nation’s best research,
are now struggling to make ends meet. So the question is: what happened? And what does this mean for Americans?Here’s
the whole story. Back in 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed a bill
that set aside land in each state for public higher education. The deal was that states would dedicate a
portion of their budgets to fund public colleges and research universities, which would then
offer a quality, affordable education for nearly everybody who wanted one. As more and more people could afford to go
to college, states built more PRUs and expanded the ones they already had, until they became
huge hubs of culture and research. Today, they support museums, theaters, hospitals,
and laboratories, and their discoveries have contributed to the development of antibiotics,
ATMs, bar codes, smartphones, GPS, laser eye surgery, the internet, and much, much more. But recently, states have been under more
and more pressure to pay for the expanding costs of programs like Medicaid and state
corrections. This extra money has to come from somewhere
else in the budget, and more often than not, it comes from funding for higher education. So far, most PRUs have been able to keep up
by raising tuitions and cutting costs. In fact, American public research universities
are now educating more students, more effectively, and more efficiently than ever. But just because things look okay now doesn’t
mean they can stay that way for much longer. PRUs can’t keep raising their tuitions, which
means that eventually they’re going to have to cut down on essential programs – or worse. That would be bad, not just for students,
but for everyone. An America without public research universities
is an America with less innovation, less effective healthcare, less social mobility, less culture,
less of so much of what makes this country great. The good thing is that we can avoid that future. There’s still time for all of us to rethink
the way we support public universities by working with leaders in government, business,
philanthropy, and education to raise awareness and build new financial models now before
it’s too late. That’s why the American Academy of Arts and
Sciences has launched the Lincoln Project. A nationwide initiative to look into public
research universities and find a way to save them. And they need our help. Because the future of higher education affects
us all. And every one of us can do something to make
that future a bright one. We have to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *