“The COVID-19 pandemic, in parallel with already shifting American demographics, is having an acute impact on student access and success. That impact is disproportionately affecting first generation, Pell Grant-eligible students, and disadvantaged communities with limited access to technology. The current crisis has also reinforced the importance of higher education for encouraging upward social mobility, economic stability and a strong democracy. Under stress, it has become apparent that the current model of public higher education has substantial structural and financial weaknesses. We believe the solutions to these compound issues requires a bold new collaboration between political and institutional entities and the American public.

As campus planners and strategists, we affirm higher education is a public benefit and one of the most important tools for building long-lasting regional, state and national durability. In March 2020, faced with federal and state mandates, most college and university campuses were forced to abandon face-to-face education for emergency remote learning. These events illuminated the need for systemic change to address whom we educate, how we educate them, and most importantly, the speed, cost and efficiency of that education. For prepared institutions, COVID-19 did not wholesale change the trajectory of higher education, it merely accelerated it. For many others, it is a time to renew the social contract of public higher education to ensure a more resilient future.”

Change Starts with Regional Comprehensive Universities 

“To do the most good, it is important to begin with the public institutions where education and social mobility overlap—regional comprehensive universities. Originally founded as the “people’s universities,” these institutions educate more than 70% of all undergraduate students at four-year institutions with more than 400 locations nationally. They comprise a vast and diverse ecosystem of both degree offerings and specialization. Our exploration is applicable to both systems with centralized state governance—such as Florida, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania—and decentralized systems like Michigan, Arizona and Colorado.”

Read the full article on SmithGroup.com.

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