Join the campaign for the future of Higher Education



The Campaign for the Future of Higher Education – CFHE for short – is a GRASSROOTS NATIONAL CAMPAIGN to support quality higher education. It was initiated in Los Angeles, California, on May 17, 2011, by leaders of faculty organizations from 21 states. CFHE’s fifth meeting was held in Columbus, Ohio, on May 17 and 18, 2013.

The mission of this campaign is to ENSURE THAT AFFORDABLE QUALITY HIGHER EDUCATION is accessible to all sectors of our society in the coming decades. This is a time of great change in higher education.

To make sure that these changes are good for students and our country, we need to REFRAME THE CURRENT DEBATE to focus on quality higher education as an essential right for our democracy. Faculty, students and our communities, not just administrators, politicians, foundations and think tanks, need to have a voice to ensure that changes – in emphasis, curriculum, pricing, and structure – are good for our students and the quality of education they receive.

What is at stake is NOTHING LESS THAN OUR DEMOCRACY and our economic standing in the global economy.

The Campaign for the Future of Higher Education is organized around SEVEN CORE PRINCIPLES that must define quality higher education for the 21st century. We believe these principles provide a helpful framework for developing and assessing proposals for innovation or restructuring in the future.

1. Higher Education in the 21st Century must be inclusive; it should be available to and affordable for all who can benefit from and want a college education.

Demographic projections make it clear that the United States will not return to world leadership in higher education attainment without increasing higher education opportunities and success for all sectors of our increasingly diverse society. A vigorous democracy and a thriving economy in the future demand that we give this principle full attention when we consider proposals for change, seeking out changes that will enhance educational opportunity and success for all students, including low-income communities and communities of color, and rejecting any proposals that may have unintended negative consequences for access and success.

We simply cannot risk a return to earlier times when education was rationed on the basis of race and economic status.

For this principle to be realized, higher education must also be recognized as a right and a public good rather than as a privilege and primarily a private good. High tuition, inadequate financial aid, and burdensome levels of student debt might seem more acceptable when we focus on the advantages higher education brings to the individual, but our current approach of increasing the costs of college restricts access for individuals and dampens the broader social and economic benefits of higher education.

2. The curriculum for a quality 21st Century higher education must be broad and diverse.

Our economy demands a population that is broadly educated for critical thinking and innovation. Narrow job training alone can condemn graduates to dead-end paths– in low-wage jobs , unable to repay their student loans, and ill-equipped to adjust to changing job markets and careers.

The value of a broad and diverse curriculum extends beyond economics. In the increasingly interconnected world of the 21st century, we will need more people who understand its history, who can think outside of narrow boundaries, and who have the tools to function in a culturally diverse environment.

Our democracy needs a broadly educated citizenry. Civic participation cannot flourish when a liberal education is reserved for the elite, and narrow training is provided for everyone else.

3. Quality higher education in the 21st Century will require a sufficient investment in excellent faculty who have the academic freedom, terms of employment, and institutional support needed to do state-of-the-art professional work.

Faculty and professionals must have the academic freedom to exercise their professional judgment in educational decisions about what and how to teach in the best interests of a quality education and student success. They must be free and secure enough in their terms of employment to stretch and challenge students, and to apply high academic standards.

Colleges and universities must also provide faculty and staff with the resources and continuing professional development to stay current in their fields and to use the best methods for enhancing student learning and success.

The growing practice of hiring faculty into full and part-time contingent positions that are not eligible for due process protections of tenure inhibits the full application of academic standards and the free exercise of professional judgment.

4. Quality higher education in the 21st century should incorporate technology in ways that expand opportunity and maintain quality.

Technology that enhances learning is a welcome addition to the 21st century higher education experience. The current public conversation about the use of technology in higher education, however, suffers from a lack of depth and subtlety.

Too often the discussion begins with the unexamined assumption that “technology” and “the internet” are not already being incorporated into higher education in significant ways. Anyone who has spent any time in a college or university recently would dispute the assumption that underpins many demands for “innovation” in this area.

Even more significant, the technology debate would be improved if we made a more careful distinction between education and the transfer of information. Undoubtedly, the internet has already revolutionized the latter in universities and in the wider world. But education, which involves the development of higher level skills of assessment, critique, and expression, is a complex process that is often more challenging to produce in digital formats.

This latter point is related to another common assumption made when discussing online education—that it will save vast sums of money. When online technologies are used for higher levels of teaching rather than simply for rote learning or transfer of information, there is evidence that cost savings quickly evaporate. In fact, many faculty who are proponents of and experts in online education argue that teaching a good online course is more labor-intensive and thus more costly than more traditional formats.

In short, the role of online formats and other technological innovations in higher education is vastly more complex than the current public discussion would suggest. Issues of access (will some students be shortchanged simply because they don’t own a good computer or have access to high-speed internet), student success (will online formats work for under-prepared students who also deserve a chance for success?), equity, and quality need a deeper analysis if we are to have the kind of higher education we will need in the 21st century.

5. Quality education in the 21st Century will require the pursuit of real efficiencies and the avoidance of false economies.

Not every cut in costs in a business—or in a college– is a real efficiency.

Many of the cuts colleges and universities have made during this current economic crisis—cutting classes, increasing class sizes, closing departments, slashing curricula, and reducing support services for students have helped campuses balance their budgets in the short-term, but the long-term costs of these cuts have not been adequately acknowledged or discussed.

In fact, the economic pressure to cut budgets and the political pressure to define all cuts as “efficiencies” currently makes it almost impossible to open a conversation about the hidden costs of various cuts.

We propose that the public discussion of increasing efficiency and productivity in higher education start here: a real efficiency that should be pursued will not only cut costs but also enhance or at least not harm student success and the principles of a quality higher education for the 21st century outlined in this document.

6. Quality higher education in the 21st Century will require substantially more public investment over current levels.

Money will not solve all of higher education’s problems, but adequate public investment in an enterprise so crucial to the country’s future well-being simply must be provided.

Assurances that “we can do more with less” may play well politically, but they will not move us toward affordable, quality higher education in the 21st century.

In fact, failure of leaders in higher education and in government to highlight the currently perilous level of public investment in higher education does the country a grave disservice, for it allows the public to believe we can achieve world leadership in higher education or even maintain our current levels of achievement by simply accepting the status quo.

7. Quality higher education in the 21st century cannot be measured by a standardized, simplistic set of metrics.

Simplistic measures of success in K-12 that are the legacy of No Child Left Behind have not served our country or our children well. We should not make the same mistakes in higher education.

Unfortunately, graduation rates, in isolation, appear to be gaining ascendancy as the national measure of higher education success. While we agree with the goal of significantly increasing the number of people with college degrees and certificates, this trend is disturbing because a national drive toward that goal—to the exclusion of others–can threaten important principles, including inclusiveness and access, that are crucial for the kind of higher education we will need in the 21st century.

A more fruitful direction would recognize that educational success, like human health, is a complex systemic process that requires a rich data picture (of both qualitative and quantitative measures) for full assessment. For higher education to flourish, all our leaders—in government and in education—must avoid the lure of reductionist measures and simplistic goals that will foster a false sense of progress now but bitter disappointment at the results in the future.

Change in American higher education in the 21st Century is both inevitable and desirable.

Change is, in fact, a commonplace in every college and university worthy of the name.

Historically, our colleges and universities have offered an ever-changing array of programs, courses, and teaching formats. Instead of seeing that rich diversity as a “luxury” we can no longer afford or as a “problem” to be fixed, we should see it as a strength that should be preserved and fostered. It is the environment in which higher education teaching and research flourish best and in which students are best able to reach their educational aspirations.

As we examine proposals for change in higher education in the coming decades, we should build on the traditions, principles, and vision that have characterized American higher education at its best. We believe that using the principles discussed here to inform the national conversation can lead us toward an American higher education system in the 21st century that will serve our nation well and be a source of pride.

The web site of the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education is located at:

Here is a list of the faculty groups currently supporting the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education:

Academic Professionals of California

AFT Seattle, Local 1789

American Association of University Professors*

American Federation of Teachers*

Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance*

Association of American Colleges and Universities*

Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties*

Boston College (AAUP Chapter)

California Community College Association*

California Faculty Association (California State University)

California Federation of Teachers Community College Council

Canadian Association of University Teachers

Campus Action for Public Education (CAPE)

Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions (CGEU)

CORE: Calling Oregon to Re-invest in Education

Council for Opportunity in Education*

Council of University of California Faculty Associations (CUCFA)

Eastern Michigan (AAUP Chapter)

Faculty Senate of Virginia

Faculty Staff Union University of Massachusetts Boston (Mass. Teachers Assn./NEA)*

Fédération nationale des enseignantes et enseignants du Québec (FNEEQ-CSN)

Institute for Higher Education Policy*

Inter Faculty Organization, Minnesota State Colleges and University System

Los Angeles College Faculty Guild, AFT, Local 1521

Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO

Massachusetts Society of Professors UMass Amherst (Mass. Teachers Association/NEA)

Merrimack College Chapter of AAUP

Michigan Conference of the American Association of University Professors*

Mohawk Valley Community College, NYSUT/AFT

National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies (Rene Nunez Political Action Caucus)

NCHE, NEA Higher Education Caucus

Nevada Faculty Alliance

New Faculty Majority*

Ohio Conference – AAUP

Portland State University – AAUP

Professional Staff Congress (City University of New York)*

Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM)*

Rutgers Council of AAUP Chapters – AFT

San Francisco Labor Council

Santa Monica College Faculty Association

Save Our Schools

Service Employees International Union*

South Dakota Council of Higher Education

Southeast Asia Resource Action Center*

South Bay (CA) AFL-CIO Labor Council (Santa Clara and San Benito Counties)

Southern California Public Education Coalition

Union County College Chapter United Adjunct Faculty of New Jersey, AFT

United Academics at the University of Vermont, AFT/AAUP

United Faculty of Florida (University of Florida)*

United Faculty of North Orange County Community College District

United Faculty of Washington State

United States Student Association*

United University Professions (State University of New York)*

University of California, San Diego Faculty Association

University Faculty Council (University of Mary Washington)

University of District of Columbia Faculty Association (NEA)*

University of Montana’s University Faculty Association

University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) AAUP Chapter

University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Faculty Association (WFA)

Virginia Conference of AAUP

Wright State University, Chapter of AAUP (AAUP-WSU)