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Home > American Institutions and the Public Good > Project List > The Lincoln Project: Excell...

The Lincoln Project: Excellence and Access in Public Higher Education

In a global economy that requires both an educated citizenry and a robust national research enterprise, public higher education is not a luxury: it is the foundation of our competitiveness. Yet in the current political climate of fiscal constraint, public higher education has emerged a ready target for reduced federal and state investment, forcing campuses across the country to make difficult and consequential choices about institutional spending and resource allocation.

The Lincoln Project: Excellence and Access in Public Higher Education is considering the implications of state disinvestment in public higher education; assessing the role of the federal government in funding our great public research universities; and developing recommendations for ensuring that public universities continue to serve the nation as engines of economic development and opportunity for Americans from all backgrounds. Ultimately, the project will encourage the development of new federal, corporate, and philanthropic sources of support to sustain public higher education in every state.

The Lincoln Project is named for President Abraham Lincoln to commemorate his role in signing the Morrill Act of 1862, which laid the groundwork for the United States’ unparalleled public university system.

Project Activities

The Lincoln Project comprises seven subcommittees: public relations, government relations, business/corporate, philanthropy, access/affordability, research, and data. Of special note, the data group is responding to the clear project need for comprehensive and robust information on which to base its policy recommendations. Broadly, the data subcommittee seeks to answer why public research universities cost so much, what benefits students receive from attending public research universities, and what benefits public research universities provide to their cities, states, regions, and nation.

In regional meetings held around the country, the Lincoln Project is bringing together local leaders representing public higher education, government, policy, business, and philanthropy to identify common concerns and advance innovative initiatives. Current areas of focus include:

  • How public universities can address financial challenges while fulfilling their commitment to providing an accessible and affordable undergraduate education;
  • How public universities can devise financial strategies that enable them to compete effectively with their counterparts in private higher education;
  • How public universities can better measure and communicate the payoffs for all residents – in terms of quality of life, cultural infrastructure, and direct economic benefits – of state investment in higher education; and
  • What role the federal government, the business sector, and philanthropy should play in sustaining the excellence of America’s public research universities.

The Lincoln Project held its first regional forum in Charlottesville, Virginia, on October 26, 2014. Fourteen members of the Lincoln Project advisory group were joined by a panel that included Teresa Sullivan, President, University of Virginia; Michael Rao, President, Virginia Commonwealth University; Timothy Sands, President, Virginia Tech; Carol Folt, Chancellor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Peter Blake, Director, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia; Gerald Baliles, Director, The White Burkett Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia, and former Governor of Virginia; and Ray Scheppach, Miller Center Senior Fellow for Economic Policy and Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, University of Virginia. Additional meetings are being planned in Austin, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; New York, New York; Seattle, Washington; and Tucson, Arizona.

Follow-up regional meetings will focus on building consensus around recommended initiatives and policies.

Project Chairs

  • Robert J. Birgeneau
    University of California, Berkeley
  • Mary Sue Coleman
    University of Michigan


  • Lawrence S. Bacow
    Tufts University; Harvard Kennedy School
  • Gene D. Block
    University of California, Los Angeles
  • Henry E. Brady
    University of California, Berkeley
  • Philip Bredesen Jr.
    former Governor of Tennessee
  • Nancy Cantor
    Rutgers University–Newark
  • John T. Casteen III
    University of Virginia
  • Jonathan R. Cole
    Columbia University
  • Gray Davis
    former Governor of California
  • J. Patrick Doyle
    Domino's Pizza
  • David B. Frohnmayer
    University of Oregon
  • E. Gordon Gee
    West Virginia University;
    The Ohio State University
  • Matthew Goldstein
    The City University of New York
  • Donald Graham
    Graham Holdings Company
  • Carl Guardino
    Silicon Valley Leadership Group
  • Robert D. Haas
    Levi Strauss & Co.
  • Jim Hackett
    formerly, Steelcase
  • Ann Weaver Hart
    University of Arizona
  • Michael Hout
    New York University
  • Kay Bailey Hutchison
    former United States Senator, Texas
  • Jim Leach
    University of Iowa
  • Earl Lewis
    The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
  • Ann Marie Lipinski
    Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard
  • William Powers, Jr.
    University of Texas at Austin
  • John W. Rogers, Jr.
    Ariel Investments
  • Thomas Siebel
    C3; First Virtual Group
  • Shirley M. Tilghman
    Princeton University
  • Phyllis M. Wise
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Frank Yeary
    CamberView Partners LLC; formerly, University of California, Berkeley
  • Pauline Yu
    American Council of Learned Societies

Project Staff

  • Samantha Carney

  • Deceased

Related Publications

Published from   thru      Type:    
 Title and SynopsisTo Order
Public Research Universities: Why They Matter
American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2015
Free Download:
   PDF document

Project Chairs

Robert J. Birgeneau, University of California, Berkeley

Mary Sue Coleman, University of Michigan

New Publications

Public Research Universities: Why They Matter, the first in a series of publications from the Lincoln Project, explores some of the major benefits of public research universities, including their commitment to providing a wide range of students with a high-quality education; their contribution to the economic vitality of their states, regions, and the nation; and their commitment to preparing the next generation of leaders through research and teaching excellence.

Read more and download this publication.

In the News

The Cavalier Daily
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Quick Takes, Inside Higher Ed
The Ticker, The Chronicle of Higher Education

Highlighted Activities

Robert Birgeneau, University of California, discusses The Lincoln Project at a briefing on Academy research projects and studies, October 2013.

Learn More About this Project