Dear Chairs Frelinghuysen, Cochran, Black, and Enzi and Ranking Members Lowey, Leahy, Yarmuth, and Sanders:
I write on behalf of more than 50,000 citizen trustees of America's public and independent colleges and universities—volunteer leaders who assume ultimate responsibility for setting the strategic and policy direction for their institutions in a system of shared governance with their campus administrators and faculty. America's higher education governance model is unqiue, assigning accountability to the men and women who connect society to campus priorities and societal goals.
These board members are inclusive of the breadth of those with an intense commitment to workable, effective institutional policies: they are parents, alumni, professionals, and community leaders—also physicians, teachers, clergy, and business owners. And, as fiduciaries, governing boards are responsible for the success of the students who are enrolled in the institutions they serve. Board members recognize the challenges facing the sector today, and are committed to adding value to higher education and ensuring that the nation's colleges and universities provide the highest quality education in the most affordable way possible.
Working with presidents, faculty, and senior administrators, board members are actively engaged in encouraging new and innovative strategies—to help ensure institutional business models and unique partnerships are designed to improve academic delivery and efficiency. And they are doing so at a time of declining resources and enrollments. For example, the College of St. Mary in Omaha, Nebraska, cut its undergraduate tuition by more than a third—and the new accelerated-degree program at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina is designed to save students 60 percent on the price of private college tuition nationally. The Missouri Innovation Campus—a collaboration between the University of Central Missouri, Metropolitan Community College, local school districts, and businesses—allows students to earn a bachelor's degree debt-free through a combination of student aid, tuition forgiveness, and employment. And the Effectiveness and Efficiency Initiative at the University System of Maryland has resulted in $540 million in savings from centralized purchases, construction, facilities, and energy management.
These institutions reflect only a few examples of the widespread, earnest efforts of our higher education institutions—and their leaders—to increase their value to society while containing costs to students. That is why, as you begin your deliberations on the FY 2018 federal budget, we urge you to maintain Congress' historic and bipartisan commitment to student financial aid and support for scientific research and discovery in the FY 20108 budget process. Part of what makes this country's model of higher education the most respected in the world is that it is open and broadly available to almost all who desire a meaningful degree or credential. And it is the historic role of federal assistance that enables so many to have that opportunity—most especially in a period where colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to help ensure a vibrant economy based on individual opportunity. Protecting the substantial federal investment in higher education is an investment in this country's future; proposals to dramatically reduce federal support puts that future at risk. And, those who serve on our college and university governing boards are uniformly concerned about what that means for the future.
The president's proposal would cut $54 billion in federal discretionary spending, and would include cuts to historic programs such as Pell Grants, federal work study, and the Fulbright Program. It would eliminate Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG) and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program entirely—the latter used by thousands to better their communities in jobs such as teachers and first-responders. Research and innovation would suffer under the president's proposal, with a $5.8 billion reduction slated for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and an 11 percent overall cut to the National Science Foundation (NSF).
While no industry or interest can be guaranteed federal support, such reductions—if enacted—would greatly impact colleges and universities at the critical moment that they are bringing innovation and affordability programs to scale. The result could be catastrophic for students, families, and communities.
We understand that the president's FY 2018 budget proposal is just that—a proposal that you and other key members of Congress will consider. We also know that last month's FY 2017 omnibus appropriations measure expanded Pell Grants for low- and middle-income students, and increased critical funding for NIH and scientific research. We appreciate the continued, bipartisan support for students and families, and the innovations in health and science that improve our communities.
We thank you for this continued support. Higher education is once again doing what it can to meet its social compact with students and society, led by the unique structure of our system's governance model. Please maintain Congress' historic and bipartisan commitment to student financial aid and support for scientific research and discovery in the FY 2018 budget process.
Richard D. Legon
Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges