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Report Shows More Public Colleges and Universities Looking at Going Independent

February 24, 2005

[Editor's note: This bulletin was edited after its initial publication to remove a statement about  public institutions in the state of Virginia. A bulletin explaining the unique new autonomy granted to Virginia public colleges was published on Monday, February 28.]

Four specific symptoms are forcing a trend toward privatization among state colleges and universities, according to a new report by the Futures Project at Brown University. The project was established in 1999 to study the role and impact of market forces in higher education.

The report, “Correcting Course: How We Can Restore the Ideals of Public Higher Education in a Market-Driven Era,” speaks to how public institutions are trying to compete in an increasingly crowded market while still being true to their public service mission. “Correcting Course” points to four symptoms leading toward this crisis in public higher education: inadequate support for low-income students (the trend to award merit over need-based aid); rising costs and unaffordable tuition (stagnant state budgets correlates with tuition increases); elusive outcomes (a lack of satisfactory performance measurements); and scholarship for sale (as federal support for research declines, corporate sponsorship is sought). These “weaknesses” in public higher education, according to the report, have led public institutions to seek out students who will improve their college rankings and who can pay the full cost of tuition.

A series of individual recommendations for state policymakers, colleges and universities, and the public are offered in the report, instructing them on ways to form a new compact between higher education and the public to better serve both public and state institution needs.

The report is available from the Futures Project Web site.