Lincoln project addresses challenges to public universities

US academy considers impact of cuts and competition

February 7, 2013

A project to assess the impact on public universities of cutbacks in government support, emerging technological changes and competition from private and foreign providers has been launched in the US.

The Lincoln Project: Excellence and Access in Public Higher Education, sponsored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS), will assess the “fundamental challenges” faced by public colleges and universities, and campaign to highlight the importance of their work.

It will be led by Robert Birgeneau, the outgoing chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, who steps down from that post at the end of May.

The project was unveiled at a AAAS symposium titled The Benefit of Public Investment in Higher Education: California and Beyond, held at Berkeley on 28 January.

The three-year project will develop recommendations to “preserve the strength and diversity” of colleges and universities, and will engage state and federal policymakers, elected officials and university and business leaders through a series of national conferences.

It is named after President Abraham Lincoln in commemoration of his role in signing the Morrill Act of 1862, which laid the groundwork for the US’ public universities.

Professor Birgeneau told the symposium that financial cutbacks and escalating costs were threatening state university systems throughout the country.

In this light, the way that such systems were funded needed to be reformed, he added.

“Without bold steps to stabilise the financial model of our public universities, hundreds of thousands of deserving students will be denied access to a better life, and the country’s ability to innovate, create jobs and support a strong economy will be severely compromised,” he said.

Leslie Berlowitz, president of the AAAS, said that the US system of higher education - both public and private - “has long given America a decisive competitive advantage in the global economy”.

She added: “Public universities have provided a special pathway for immigrants and new generations of learners in America.

“Today, the ability of the system to maintain high quality and access for all qualified applicants is at risk.”

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