Office of the President

May 5, 2017

The Lincoln Project and the future of public higher education

Ana Mari Cauce

This week, I had the honor of hosting The Lincoln Project Symposium here at the University of Washington. An initiative of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, The Lincoln Project, named after President Lincoln who signed the Morrill Act laying the groundwork for our public university system during very difficult times in our country, seeks to increase understanding of the impact of public research universities so as to build support for greater public and private investment. Public research universities like the UW are essential engines for social mobility and prosperity, especially for first generation students. If, as a society, we fail to make the investments needed to keep them strong, we endanger progress, prosperity and innovation not just for the individuals who attend, but for their communities, states and our nation.

The symposium included a talk by Lincoln Project co-chair Robert J. Birgeneau, former chancellor of UC Berkeley, who shared the project’s recent findings about the impacts of state disinvestment over the last several decades. The national data show that the average state support per public research university student has declined by 26 percent, even as the need for college educated workers continues to increase. Meanwhile, the burden of paying for college increasingly falls on students and their families. While Washington state has bucked this trend the last few years, and state reinvestment has begun, it is still below pre-recession levels and falls short of providing our students the access they deserve.

Every part of our economy benefits from a well-educated citizenry and workforce. Our democracy requires informed, productive, tax-paying citizens and job-creators, and the economic prosperity and health of our nation requires the groundbreaking discoveries and technology advances that comes from research universities. Ultimately, everyone has a stake in public education, and the funding model must reflect that diversity, not only through public investment, but through support from philanthropy and the business community.

Lincoln Project panel discussion with Ana Mari Cauce, Kirk Schulz, Christine Gregoire, Daniel Greenstein and moderator Margaret O'Mara

Great panel discussion with President Kirk Schulz, Governor Christine Gregoire and Dan Greenstein of the Gates Foundation with Associate Professor Margaret O’Mara as moderator

During a panel discussion, Washington State University President Kirk Schulz; former Governor Christine Gregoire; Daniel Greenstein, Director of Education, Postsecondary Success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and I had an opportunity to discuss how we can ensure that every qualified student has the opportunity to attend an institution of higher education and succeed.

Virtually every job that the American economy has created since the Great Recession requires some form of postsecondary education and in most cases a degree. We need to think of access as not only who has the opportunity to enter higher education, but who will leave with a degree in hand. We also need to ensure that our students can “access” the kinds of skills and experiences they will need when they leave – experiences they will acquire both inside and outside the classroom. That’s why we put so much emphasis on the Husky Experience, providing our students with opportunities to attain leadership skills, conduct research side by side with faculty, participate in entrepreneurship programs, study abroad, participate in service learning and engage in a range of civic and cultural activities.

Everyone – citizens, businesses, governments and philanthropists – has a vital stake in ensuring a future that provides all our students with the opportunities and experiences they will need to create a better world.