Public Research Universities: Recommitting to Lincoln’s Vision—An Educational Compact for the 21st Century

Note from Academy President

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The Lincoln Project: Excellence and Access in Public Higher Education

This is the fifth and final report of The Lincoln Project: Excellence and Access in Public Higher Education, an initiative of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Since it began its work in January 2013, the Lincoln Project has examined the causes and results of reduced state investment in public research universities. A distinguished and diverse project committee met frequently over the past three years to discuss the challenges and opportunities for these important institutions, which educate millions of students, support the cultural and economic vitality of their states, and generate research that creates new knowledge and technology. Project leaders also convened regional forums in Charlottesville, Virginia; Austin, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; New York, New York; and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to share ideas with leaders from academia, business, philanthropy, government, and the media.

Previous publications of the Lincoln Project provide an overview of the current financial challenges as well as the significant achievements of public research universities. The first publication, Public Research Universities: Why They Matter, describes the benefits of public research universities as well as the changing demands on these institutions. The second, Public Research Universities: Changes in State Funding, examines state financing of higher education, the challenges that state governments face, and the prospects for greater state support in the future. Public Research Universities: Understanding the Financial Model details the most common financial models that sustain public research universities and examines new ideas for diversifying and enhancing funding sources in the future. The fourth publication, Public Research Universities: Serving the Public Good, describes the impact of public research universities on economic growth, civic engagement, scientific and technological discovery, and the well-being of individual students. These publications are available at

This publication, Recommitting to Lincoln’s Vision: An Educational Compact for the 21st Century, is the culmination of the Lincoln Project committee’s work. It draws from previous publications and presents new recommendations for stabilizing and strengthening public research universities at an inflection point in their history. This report calls on the federal government, state governments, corporations, foundations, philanthropists, and, of course, public research universities to come together—to share responsibility for maintaining these institutions so that they continue to serve their states and the nation for generations to come.

This document is a result of the extraordinary commitment of the members of the Lincoln Project Advisory Group (see the inside back cover for the complete list of members). Their ideas, guidance, and hard work are evident in every aspect of this report. The Academy is especially grateful to Cochairs Robert Birgeneau, chancellor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, and Mary Sue Coleman, president-elect of the Association of American Universities and president emerita of the University of Michigan, for their leadership and their unwavering dedication to this effort.

In addition to Lincoln Project members Henry E. Brady and Michael Hout, the American Academy is grateful to Jon Stiles, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley Department of Sociology and head of the University’s social science data archive; Charlie Eaton, Ph.D. candidate, University of California, Berkeley Department of Sociology; and Donald J. Boyd, director of fiscal studies at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, for leading the data analysis effort.

We thank members of the Academy’s Board, Council, and Trust, as well as other Academy members for their advice and ongoing support. And we are grateful to Leslie Berlowitz, former president of the Academy, for initiating this important project.

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

Jonathan F. Fanton
President, American Academy of Arts and Sciences