Press Release

American Academy of Arts & Sciences "The Lincoln Project" Looks at Challenges and Opportunities at American Public Research Universities


CAMBRIDGE, MA | JUNE 9, 2015 – America’s public research universities are facing myriad challenges that threaten their role as essential sources of innovation, economic vitality, and educational opportunity.

Steadily declining financial support from state governments, eroding public confidence, and changing student demographics, among other challenges, led The American Academy of Arts and Sciences to undertake The Lincoln Project: Excellence and Access in Public Higher Education.

In the first of five publications addressing these and other issues, The Lincoln Project looks at Public Research Universities: Why They Matter.

"Public research universities educate the very best students state by state across the entire country,” said cochair Robert Birgeneau, Chancellor Emeritus of the University of California, Berkeley. “They represent our most effective mechanism for addressing the challenges of income inequality, equity, and inclusion. We must preserve their excellence."

“Across the country, public research universities have responded to the financial crises of the past decade with enormous resilience and creativity,” added cochair of The Lincoln Project, Mary Sue Coleman, President Emeritus of the University of Michigan. “But limits have been reached, and we now risk losing a valuable resource for every single state in this nation.”

In addition to Coleman and Birgeneau, the Lincoln Project advisory committee comprises scholars, business and industry and political leaders.

Public Research Universities: Why They Matter begins the discussion by highlighting five specific ways in which these institutions are vital to the public good.



Public Research Universities:



  • Serve the national interest.
    • With the demise of many private research laboratories, our nation’s universities are the primary sources of U.S. research, discovery, and innovation.
  • Contribute to the innovation economy.
    • Between 2012 and 2013, research at public research universities resulted in more than 13,340 patent applications, 3,281 patents awarded, and 693 start-ups.
  • Provide quality educational opportunities and programs at a highly efficient cost.
    • An education from a public research university typically pays for itself within five to seven years of post-graduate employment.
  • Work to maintain and improve access and affordability.
    • Of first-year students entering public research universities in 2012- 2013, 83% of students received financial aid and 31% received Pell Grants.
  • Value responsible spending.
    • Tuition increases are driven mostly by cuts in state appropriations. In response, universities are cutting administrative costs and developing new funding models to reduce the burden on students.

Subsequent publications will examine the challenges facing higher education funding at the state level; current and changing financial models of public research universities; and the myriad impacts of the research conducted at these institutions.

Named for President Abraham Lincoln, who in 1862 signed The Morrill Act, establishing a network of public universities, The Lincoln Project focuses on strengthening the functions that these institutions play in the areas of access, research, regional and national economic vitality, and individual economic liberty and social mobility.

The Lincoln Project will offer substantive policy recommendations for sustaining these institutions and advancing their growth for the benefit of the states they serve and the nation as a whole.

“Public research universities are an essential component of American higher education,” said Academy President Jonathan F. Fanton. “They educate students of all backgrounds and they support a substantial portion of the scientific, social scientific, and humanistic research that creates knowledge and drives innovation.”

Funding for The Lincoln Project is provided by generous support from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The Spencer Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Thomas and Stacey Siebel Foundation, and Robert and Colleen Haas.


Felicia Knight