The past year has been filled with both exceptional challenges as well as unique opportunities for the public university community. Through its robust government affairs and advocacy work, programmatic activities, and an unprecedented number of virtual convenings, APLU worked with universities to drive equitable student success; foster research and innovation to meet societal needs, and deepen community, economic, and international engagement to benefit all.
This year was extraordinarily busy in Washington. APLU played a critical role in securing congressional support for tens of billions in pandemic relief funds for students, universities, and research agencies in the American Rescue Plan passed in March. APLU has also worked extensively on Build Back Better, including a substantial increase in the Pell grant, a federal program to support degree completion initiatives, and support for scientific research. APLU played a major leadership role in improving the United States Innovation and Competition Act prior to Senate passage and continues to work to advance competitiveness legislation.
APLU also worked hard to advance student success in 2021. The association’s Powered by Publics initiative is convening 125 member universities in “transformation clusters” tackling shared student success challenges and sharing lessons from this critical work. The APLU co-led Aspire Alliance, which is working to cultivate a more diverse and inclusive faculty to attract greater numbers of underrepresented students into STEM fields and enhance their success, engaged more than 1,300 individuals in professional development while producing a flurry of new resources for advancing diversity and equity on campus.
APLU advanced a number of critical research efforts in 2021, too. APLU’s Councils on Research and Strategic Communications collaborated closely on the association’s Public Impact Research initiative to encourage universities to address societal needs and more effectively communicate about this work. Additionally, the association advanced work with HBCU leaders to develop a strategy for improving innovation and entrepreneurship among HBCUs. What’s more, APLU released new research outlining steps universities can take to strengthen research collaboration with the private sector.
This year also marked important milestones in APLU’s engagement work. The association advanced work creating models for university engagement with small and medium-sized manufacturers through technology transfer, technical services, and skill development. APLU also released research on the relationship between the e-connectivity gap and smart agriculture and hosted a convening exploring how universities can help communities maximize the impact of rural broadband investments. And to promote international engagement, APLU worked with partner higher education groups to advocate for a national strategy to increase the number of international students.
Finally, last November, I announced that I would retire in September 2022. It’s has been an extraordinary honor to serve as the president of APLU and to work alongside professionals so dedicated to advancing the public good through education, research, and community engagement. As we look to emerge from a pandemic that has altered nearly every segment of society—in some instances, permanently—I see a greater need for the work of public universities than ever. Still, we know delivering on this mission will require us to adapt with agility and innovation to a rapidly shifting landscape. I look forward to remaining deeply engaged with you in this work until the day I retire.
The challenges public research universities have confronted and overcome this year are truly extraordinary. But the year ahead promises still more change, challenges, and opportunities. We still have a significant amount of work to get critical federal investments in higher education and research across the finish line in Washington. The pandemic, as well as the lasting changes it has wrought, continues to challenge universities to find new ways to deliver on their education, research, and community engagement in innovative ways. It’s an honor to work alongside you in this vital work.