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Lincoln Project Regional Forum: New York

On April 6, 2015, Jonathan Fanton welcomed leaders from business and academia to a Regional Forum in New York City about the future of American public higher education. In his remarks, Dr. Fanton introduced the Lincoln Project and invited participants to offer their feedback on the role of partnerships between American public research universities and the private sector.

The American Academy was founded in 1780 by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock, and other leaders who helped to establish the new nation. In the midst of the Revolution, they believed that the key to America’s long-term strength and survival was, in the words of our charter, “to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people.” Since our founding, groups of members have come together, through the Academy, to examine some of the most pressing challenges of their times.

The state of American education, and particularly higher education, has been one of the most consistent themes of our work. For example, at least ten issues of our quarterly journal Dædalus have been devoted to education since we began publication in 1955. These include “American Education: Still Separate, Still Unequal” in 1995; “Education Yesterday, Education Tomorrow” in 1998; and “On Education” in 2002. For the Fall 1974 issue, “American Higher Education: Toward an Uncertain Future,” intellectual historian Frank E. Manuel wrote a rather critical essay about the evolution of the modern university entitled “Clio Vanishes from New York City.” Although Manuel regretted some of the changes taking place on campuses, including the loosening standards of most college curricula, he made a compelling case for the continuing importance of higher education for both this city and the nation as a whole:

The universities of New York are primarily engaged in turning the young men and women [of the Greater New York area] into doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, dentists, scientists and technicians of various sorts, teachers for lower and higher schools, priests, ministers, and rabbis, business specialists and administrators. In fact, everything that the society currently needs to perpetuate itself and to increase its scientific and technological knowledge as well as to amuse itself and heal its self-inflicted wounds.

I note that the professions Manuel mentions—doctors, engineers, teachers—all require training and certification in addition to a bachelor’s degree. And they are precisely the kinds of professions that are supported and advanced by our public research institutions: for example, tomorrow’s computer programmers and systems designers, data analysts, and biomedical engineers.

The American Academy’s Lincoln Project, named for Abraham Lincoln to commemorate his role in signing the Morrill Act in 1862, sees the preparation of the next generation as a challenge, but also as a great opportunity. By 2018, high-skills jobs will represent 33 percent of all job openings. Roughly 78 percent of all jobs will require education beyond high school, and most will depend on some degree of technical preparation in addition to preparation in other disciplines. Public research universities will be critical in helping the nation meet this demand.

In 2013, these institutions awarded 41 percent of all baccalaureate or graduate degrees in areas of national need as defined by the federal government: biology sciences/life sciences; chemistry; computer and information sciences; engineering; foreign languages and literature; mathematics; nursing; physics; and educational evaluation, research, and statistics. The SUNY system alone accounts for $1 billion annually in research expenditures, supporting more than ten thousand research projects across sixty-four campuses—each an opportunity for education as well as innovation. In effect, public research universities are educating our future leaders, which is why the Lincoln Project seeks to preserve and strengthen them at a time of diminished public support.

I think we all recognize that postsecondary education has become a prerequisite for personal development and national progress in the twenty-first century. This assumption drives the Lincoln Project. It has also inspired a new three-year Academy project to examine the state of undergraduate education in America. The commission, with funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, will include national leaders in education, philanthropy, business, and government. It will analyze how Americans are receiving their postsecondary training, illuminate trends, and offer recommendations aimed at broad access and affordability. The Lincoln Project, which will issue its recommendations in early 2016, is providing the Academy with a significant head start on this new project. By focusing on a particular segment of the postsecondary landscape—in this case, the nation’s flagship public research institutions—the Lincoln Project anticipates many of the themes and challenges that we will examine more in the years ahead.

Our forum this evening will be the fourth in a series. We have held similar events in Charlottesville, Austin, and Atlanta, and we are planning one on the West Coast for later this year. Each has provided a different set of perspectives on the future of public research universities. Reflecting the number of distinguished business leaders who have joined us this afternoon, the theme of our conversation will be the importance of partnerships between these critical educational institutions and the private sector.

Ultimately, the Lincoln Project will recommend new federal, philanthropic, and corporate collaborations to help cut costs, improve student access, maintain scholarly excellence, and foster a more vibrant research enterprise. What kinds of collaborations can we envision that will benefit business and help support our nation’s public research institutions? What kind of arguments in favor of these institutions would be most persuasive to the business community? These are among the questions we hope to tackle today, and I suspect that we will address many other themes during the next few hours as well. I thank you again for joining us, and I look forward to the conversation.

At this point, Dr. Fanton turned the program over to the Cochairs of the Lincoln Project, Robert Birgeneau, Chancellor Emeritus and Silverman Distinguished Professor of Physics, Materials Science, and Engineering and Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and Mary Sue Coleman, President Emerita of the University of Michigan.

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