Regional public colleges fulfill a 'critical role' in higher education, says one industry leader

Schools will 'play the leading role' in boosting degree attainment

Regional public colleges deserve more recognition for their role in educating millions of Americans, argues one industry expert in the Washington Post, responding to an article that called for the institutions to scale back.

In an editorial, Daniel Hurley, VP of government relations for American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), refutes statements that Arizona State University professor Jeffrey Selingo wrote earlier this month.

Specifically, Hurley focuses on Selingo's claim that for regional public colleges to survive, they need to "pare back" their graduate programs and instead differentiate themselves by providing low-cost bachelor's degrees and responding to local workforce needs.

Regional public colleges must scale back graduate programs, says one professor

Regional public schools, writes Hurley, "have been and will continue to be the higher education gateway to the American middle class."

Selingo's characterizations "are off-target," asserts Hurley.

While Selingo states that such institutions are frequently called the "undistinguished middle child of higher education," Hurley instead refers to them as fulfilling a "critical role" in higher education, "providing a high quality, affordable college education to millions of Americans," many of whom come from low-income families.

Forty percent of higher education students attend regional public colleges, demonstrating that the schools are meeting students' expectations and preparing them for businesses' needs, writes Hurley.

In response to Selingo's accusation that the colleges spend "needless dollars" on campus facilities, Hurley says the sector's per full-time equivalent has declined or stayed flat in the past few years. As a result, according to his calculations, earning a four-year degree from a public regional college costs less than pursuing an associate's degree at a community college.

On shutting down graduate programs and colleges

In his article, Selingo recommended consolidating colleges or trimming graduate programs to make up for falling populations and state budget cuts. But Hurley says a better option would be for states to be smarter about where they direct public funds to better serve area workforce needs.

States' higher ed funding gains concentrated in 3 states, 10 reported decreases

And while Selingo refers to graduate programs as "mediocre at best," Hurley questions that statement, pointing to low faculty-student ratios and high rates of courses led by full-time professors.

"It's clear that regional public colleges, given their access, affordability, quality and enrollment capacity, will be the institutions that will play the leading role in our collective quest to boost college degree production," writes Hurley, highlighting this as especially important considering the link between educational attainment and wealth (Hurley, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 2/17).

The takeaway: Responding to an earlier article on challenges facing regional public universities, one industry player argues the sector needs more recognition for its role in educating 40% of the higher education student body, and that states need to award funds in smarter way.

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