Lander Medlin is APPA’s executive vice president. She can be reached at email@example.com.
For the next few minutes step away from the four walls of your campus; step off your state or provincial soil; and step into the national (and in some cases international) political and economic scene. My focus is to provide a broader understanding of the public policy issues and challenges that the higher education community faces, especially from the perspective of our senior institutional officers. It is important to know what is on their minds so we can frame our own issues accordingly and ultimately be heard. This alignment is essential if we expect to be able to work together for the greater good of the higher education
First, let us understand the top ten public policy issues for higher education in 2003-04 (as published by the Association of Governing Boards) from the trustees, regents, presidents, and business officers’ vantage point/perspective. They are:
1. Homeland Security. Colleges and universities must implement three new costly and complex federal laws designed to increase homeland security.
2. Affirmative Action. The Supreme Court resolved the legality of affirmative action in admissions, student aid, and faculty hiring by reaffirming higher education’s right to address diversity in its enrollment.
3. Deteriorating Economic and Fiscal Environment. The federal and state governments face a daunting economic and fiscal situation, with discouraging prospects for higher education funding.
4. Surging Numbers of Diverse Students. Colleges and universities must address the educational and financial needs of a new generation of college students (enrollments expected to reach 17.5 million by 2010).
5. Rapid Tuition Increases. Declining state appropriations have forced public colleges and universities to raise tuition at unprecedented rates, with more hikes on the horizon.
6. Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Congress must reauthorize the law that regulates federal student-aid programs, among other things. Changes to this legislation will affect who receives federal student aid and how much. Congress is focusing on the three “A’s,” access, affordability, and accountability.
7. Federal Tax Policy. Federal tax policies designed to stimulate the economy have sharply divided Congress and the nation.
8. Assessment and Accountability. The federal and state governments want institutions to prove their educational results and are devising stringent tests to hold institutions accountable.
9. Scientific Research. The scientific community faces challenges in the areas of maintaining balanced federal investments across all scientific disciplines, procedures for bringing research results to market, the ethics of cloning and stem-cell research, and the protection of human research subjects.
10. Intercollegiate Athletics. As the public embraces college sports as entertainment, colleges and universities continue to confront issues of control, finances, and equity.
These issues add up to a substantive concern we all must face whether we are employed by the institution or hope to have our children partake
of its educational offerings. That core/key question is: “Will a college degree become an individual benefit or remain a public good?” In other words, will access to a higher education degree be assured for all who want to seek a degree? Unfortunately, this implied social contract threatens to be broken!
Why is a higher education degree so important? Several factors have converged to make it so.
• The advent of the information age has created a service economy that requires knowledge workers.
• The need for a high school degree has ostensibly been replaced by the need for a college degree to meet the demands of today’s knowledge-intensive society.
• The individual’s economic viability and professional mobility is significantly enhanced (representing a $1-3 million dollar differential in earnings over a lifetime).
The need for a higher education degree requires open access, equal opportunity, and choice. Will these opportunities continue to exist? Will a college degree become an individual benefit or remain a public good?
As an individual, why should you care? Most of us have children, or grandchildren for that matter, that
we want the best for. As a nation,
why should we care? It is a demonstrable fact that a college education, along with the work going on at universities, leads to an improved economy and ensures our global
So why is it so difficult now to achieve a college education versus other difficult economic times of the past? Several factors have converged to cause this difficulty. Higher education lags third behind Medicaid and K-12 schools for the allocation of funds (with prisons running a close fourth). Colleges and universities are a walking target for budget cuts. The situation has been dubbed as “the double whammy”, i.e. increasing
enrollments amidst decreasing resources. But it goes even further.
• More students are less well prepared.
• More students require additional financial aid (80%, up from 48%).
• State governments are “squeezing” institutions; the worst state financial crisis in 60 years.
• Endowments have been “crimped” (down 10%).
• Private donations and philanthropic giving are down 2%.
• Costs for programs and facilities are rising because of increased competitiveness among institutions for faculty and students.
The situation brewing can best be termed as the “perfect storm.” So the question remains, “Are these factors driving us toward education as an individual benefit or as public good?” As you mull over your answer to this looming question, let us look at what our institutions are doing (or what they must do) in response to this situation/predicament. Some of the options that institutions are taking include:
• Increase tuition (16 states are raising it more than 10%, with an average increase of 12.5%);
• Assess mid-year student fees;
• Begin mid-year budget cuts;
• Cap enrollment;
• Began layoffs/attrition; freeze vacant positions;
• Restrict travel;
• Limit overtime;
• Cut consultant spending;
• Defer maintenance; cap or zero-out facility renewal or maintenance renewal and replacement dollars;
• Reduce technology equipment/ library materials purchases;
• Seek productivity gains through technology
• Consolidate purchasing power (collective buying);
• Streamline back office functions;
• Increase class sizes or reduce course/class offerings;
• Rethink classroom use (given the added space crunch);
Yet, few institutions are ceasing new construction.
The answer is clearly unsettling for all of us. If left unabated, a college education will become an individual benefit only available for the few who are privileged. We must continue to do all we can to insist that broad access is a basic public good. With all the successes of the last 30 years, equal opportunity and open access remain our most compelling policy challenges. Yet, I believe that facilities professionals are doing their part to best respond to this situation.
C. Peter Magrath, president of the National Association of State Universities Land-Grant Colleges, aptly stated, “Despite the flaws and imperfections we ourselves recognize, in the hard educational currency of the world, there is an inevitable fact: No nation matches the United States in having created a system of higher education that services so many, and generates so much socially beneficial and enriching research of high
We in higher education face only one certainty: uncertainties and challenges. Yet while higher education and the facilities profession are facing these challenges and certainly some changes, it is a noble enterprise; a noble profession; a profession of which to be proud. Since I have had the wonderful opportunity to meet and talk with so many of you across the country, I see in the actions that you take and the decisions you make that you deeply care about our nation’s most valuable resource—its educational system. For most of you, it isn’t just a job; it’s a passion. You are indeed ensuring that the next generation of leaders will be well educated. As APPA professes to “building our children’s future one school at a time,” you are indeed acting on this profession and making it happen. Make no mistake about it, we are at a cross-roads that will require our best efforts and you are an integral part of the solution; you are an important player capable of framing new approaches for a better tomorrow.