UC Berkeley researchers release report proposing strategies for public research universities

Francesca Ledesma/Staff

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UC Berkeley researchers studying public research universities released a report Thursday that proposed strategies to sustain these institutions and their students despite state funding cuts.

The Lincoln Project, co-chaired by former UC Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau, was initiated by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences to develop recommendations to keep public research universities, such as the University of California, competitive with their private counterparts. Thursday’s report was the fifth and final installment in the project’s series of higher education studies, beginning in 2013.

“I became very concerned not just for Berkeley but for California as a whole,” Birgeneau said about his inspiration for the project. “I talked to other university … presidents (and) soon discovered that it was a national phenomenon.”

Three of the project’s top recommendations to support public research universities are to promote renewed state funding along with alternative sources of revenue, to create partnerships with the private sector and to improve students’ academic performance and access to educational resources by simplifying financial aid, among other methods.

Chaired by Birgeneau and former University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman, the project was advised by a committee made up of members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Among the committee members were business executives, such as Domino’s CEO Patrick Doyle, and leaders in private higher education, such as former Princeton University president Shirley Tilghman.

The Lincoln Project requested data from 145 educational institutions before making its recommendations for financial strategies and policy changes. At least one institution from each state was chosen for the research, according to Henry Brady, dean of the campus’s Goldman School of Public Policy, who was on the advisory committee for the project.

The report was published amid contention over the role of nonresident tuition after a state audit criticized the University of California for increasingly enrolling nonresidents, which UC officials have argued supports the education of in-state students.

The Lincoln Project study did not analyze nonresident enrollment as an alternative solution to waning state funding, but Birgeneau stated that their enrollment could improve the educational environment of in-state students “as long as (nonresidents are) not displacing” them.

While Carol Christ, director of the campus’s Center for Studies in Higher Education, said in an email that the recommendation to improve student access and performance was the most important and feasible of the three, she acknowledged that increased state support is unlikely because of the current downtrend in state financial support.

“Of course I think the state should increase its support, but, given what I understand of the state revenue structure, I don’t believe it’s likely,” Christ in an email. “So the most important question is what revenue streams might replace state support. It’s all very fine to say so, but the devil is in the details.”

Despite declining state funding, Brady said he hopes that the Lincoln Center reports will highlight the important role that public research universities play in the United States.

“It’s time to start thinking about public universities,” Brady said.

Contact Jennifer Wong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jenniferwong_dc.