Leading Public Educators Issue Open Letter to President-Elect Obama Urging Investment in Public Higher Education to Rebuild America's Economy

PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES, COLLEGES KEY TO ENSURING COUNTRY'S CONTINUED COMPETITIVENESS AND SECURITY

Calling America's institutions of higher education uniquely capable of producing "the people, ideas, tools, solutions, and knowledge infrastructure our economy needs to regain its momentum and to set a new trajectory," a group of public higher education leaders have issued an open letter to President-elect Obama and his incoming administration urging them to invest in higher education in general and in public higher education in particular, along with their sister private higher education institutions.

The open letter notes that this goal can be achieved by investing in the states and their educational systems. America's public higher education institutions have been among the nation's most dedicated and reliable partners in strengthening our society and our democracy. Now, they stand ready to continue this role by helping to rebuild our economy and to help meet our society's crucial need for an educated citizenry and a competent workforce.

The higher education leaders who signed the open letter applauded President-elect Obama's commitment to make college more affordable and accessible and to sustain equal opportunity for students to obtain a college education by increasing Pell grants, increasing access to student loans, and extending the grace period for their repayment. In addition, they urged the next administration to make a direct investment in the range of $40 to $50 billion that would support both higher education teaching and research facilities, in partnership with the states.

The higher education leaders also highlighted the fact that times of crisis are also times of opportunity: for example in 1862, in the darkest days of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln--who President-elect Obama has often referred to as his role model--took equally bold and decisive steps to strengthen education by working with Congress to pass the Morrill Land-Grant College Act, which set aside more than 17 million acres to the states to provide for the establishment of public agriculture and mechanical arts universities. At the same time, Lincoln established the National Academy of Science. His gaze was always on the future, even when the nation was in great jeopardy.

With a similar focus on America's future, in October, a select but representative group of public higher education leaders was convened by Vartan Gregorian, President of Carnegie Corporation of New York, to study the major challenges facing higher education institutions, both individually and collectively. One result of their discussion was the open letter, signed by leaders of public research universities, state colleges and community colleges. This letter is published in the Tuesday, December 16 editions of the New York TimesWashington Postand Boston Globe.

The proposed investment, initially in infrastructure in the form of essential classrooms and research facilities, would conform to current "green" standards and incorporate the latest technologies. In addition, since many public colleges and universities have long-planned and equally long-deferred projects that can be shovel-ready in 120-180 days, this investment has the potential of creating thousands of jobs. Said Gregorian, "This is an opportunity not only to reinvigorate our public higher education institutions and help to mobilize their resources and harness their capacity in the service of our nation, but also to have an immediate impact on economic growth in many states."

According to Gregorian, one of the most important points in the open letter--beyond the immediate economic stimulus and higher education's infrastructure needs--is a call for the Obama administration, in collaboration with states, the business community, and education stakeholders from all sectors, to develop a 20-year vision for educational attainment as part of an ambitious national strategy to ensure our continued competitiveness and security in the context of a global economy. Gregorian welcomed the fact that pub lic universities and colleges recognize the urgency of improving education outcomes, raising graduation rates, preparing more first-rate teachers, and building human capital in science, engineering, and mathematics. The present economic crisis requires an investment in human capital, and graduates of public universities historically have provided most of the workforce to meet the nation's needs.