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2023 Legislative Agenda

Since 1915, the AAUP has fought to maintain academic freedom in colleges and universities to ensure academic quality. The AAUP’s 2023 policy agenda calls for a new deal in higher education, one where we will build prosperity from the bottom up, advance social, racial, and economic justice, strengthen democracy and civil society, and foster knowledge and critical thinking. We also support continued investments in federal higher education programs, such as those in the Higher Education Act and federal research and development programs. As institutions recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and face increasingly politicized state governing boards, this federal policy agenda affirms the central role of higher education as a public good.

A Federal-State Partnership for Free College

The AAUP supports the establishment of a federal-state partnership to fund higher education. The federal government has historically funded students directly in the form of grants, while states have primarily funded institutions. States balance their budgets on the back of higher education, reasoning that they can turn to alternative sources of revenue such as tuition and fees in ways that line items like health cannot. In a federal-state partnership, the federal government, with matched funds from the states, would shift the burden of paying for college from students and their families to the public, much like public health, transportation, and other essential government services.

The AAUP has long supported the College for All Act, which would provide tuition-free college to students at community colleges and four-year institutions, provide additional funding to public or private historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), and minority serving institutions (MSIs), ensure that state funding of higher education is supported during a recession, and direct funding to academic and instructional costs. The AAUP welcomes other proposals that would move higher education finance closer to a federal-state partnership for free college and ensures that federal funding for higher education directly supports academic expenditures.

The AAUP supports legislation on federal-state partnerships and free college that would:

  • Dramatically reduce the price of attending college, with the ultimate goal of ensuring students can attend college tuition-free
  • Provide funding for two- and four-year institutions so students can choose the pathways that work best for their careers and families
  • Direct funding to academic and instructional costs, which directly impact student success

Federal Funding for Higher Education Programs

The AAUP supports increased funding to current higher education programs and reforms that will make programs more accessible and equitable for students across institutions.

Increase and Expand the Pell Grant program

The purchasing power of the current maximum Pell Grant has not kept pace with current college costs. Among full-time undergraduates, 72 percent of Black students, 60 percent of Hispanic/Latino students, 59 percent of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students, and 62 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native students receive a Pell Grant.[1]  Aligning the Pell Grant with current college prices is important for college access for low-income students and students of color. The AAUP is part of the Double Pell alliance and backs increases and improvements to the Pell Grant, such as:

  • Double the maximum Pell Grant award to at least $13,000 to increase its purchasing power and cover more tuition and cost of attendance
  • Adjust the Pell Grant to inflation yearly so that it maintains its value when prices rise
  • Extend eligibility for Pell Grants to DREAMERs
  • Make funding for the Pell Grant program fully mandatory, so that funding is automatic and predictable for students rather than subject to the annual appropriations cycle

Student Loan Debt Forgiveness and Reforms

The AAUP applauds the Biden administration for forgiving up to $20,000 in student loan debt as an essential first step in addressing the structural racial inequality in the student debt system. The AAUP further supports:

  • Continue the path to further loan forgiveness as we work on structural reforms to end debt financing of higher education
  • Support reforms to income-driven repayment that lower the burden for borrowers and improve student loan servicers
  • Expand and streamline the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program so that borrowers do not have to jump through hoops to get the timely forgiveness they deserve

Federal Institutional and Student Aid Funding

  • Increase funding for HBCU and TCU programs including infrastructure and capital financing
  • Increase funding for MSI programs, including AANAPISIs (Asian American Native American Pacific Islander serving institutions) and HSIs (Hispanic serving institutions)
  • Support robust investments in federal-work study and SEOG (Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant)
  • Increase funding to programs that support student success, including the College Completion Fund for Postsecondary Success, CCAMPIS (Child Care Access Means Parents in School), TRIO, and GEAR UP programs

Federal Research and Scientific Funding

Federal grants are important sources of funding for faculty and graduate students. Cutting-edge scientific discoveries that benefit the public good are a result of a strong federal research program. Accordingly, we support:

  • Robust investments in federal scientific funding of research across agencies, including the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), and others, to support faculty research in arts, humanities, social sciences, sciences, and other disciplines
  • Protections for the scientific integrity of peer review process and keeping political interference out of science policy

Advancing the Economic Security and Collective Bargaining Rights of Faculty

Institutions increasingly rely on contingent faculty, which includes both part- and full-time faculty appointed off the tenure-track. Contingent faculty appointments do not carry long-term economic stability and rarely protect academic freedom. Adjunct faculty members often cobble together multiple classes, sometimes across institutions, to make ends meet. Over two-thirds of faculty members were working on non-tenure-track or part-time appointments in fall 2020. Contingent faculty members—who are more likely to be women and people of color—deserve comparable compensation, continuing employment, appointment and review processes with academic due process, and inclusion in shared governance.

To achieve improved economic status of college faculty, the AAUP supports the kinds of federal and state investments detailed in this agenda that will enable institutions to transition to more economically secure appointments. The AAUP further supports:

  • Pro-labor policies at the state and federal levels, including the PRO Act, which protect the rights of faculty to form unions and collectively bargain.

The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act would meaningfully penalize organizations that violate workers’ rights, expand collective bargaining rights of workers, and strengthen access to fair union elections.

Upholding Academic Freedom and Opposing Legislative Interference in Teaching

Academic freedom is a requisite for quality teaching and research in institutions of higher education. In recent years, over forty states[2] have proposed or passed educational gag orders or other laws limiting the teaching of specific subjects in K–12 or postsecondary classrooms, particularly those deemed “divisive topics.” These bills specifically target the teaching of history of race or racism. Educational gag orders can chill free speech and the exchange of ideas at universities and colleges, making educators’ jobs difficult if not impossible.

The AAUP opposes policies that use federal or state government laws or administrative action to restrict what topics can or cannot be taught in college classrooms. Under principles of academic freedom, college and university teachers are entitled to discuss their subject matter freely. Curriculum decisions belong in the hands of faculty.

State Funding of Higher Education

Reversing the austerity financing model of higher education demands increased state support of higher education. Not all states have fully recovered in higher education appropriations from the Great Recession. Federal stimulus funding from the COVID-19 pandemic helped states weather the most recent recession, but long-term state financing is necessary to ensure continued higher education funding.

The AAUP supports:

  • Increased state appropriations to higher education and ensure equitable funding across four- and two-year institutions
  • Equitable funding of HBCUs. For too long, states have deliberately underfunded HBCUs, resulting in legal challenges in some states. States must ensure HBCUs are robustly and equitably funded.

Racial Diversity and College Admissions

The AAUP has long supported affirmative action as a way to increase the diversity of colleges and universities. As recently as this year, the AAUP joined an amicus brief with thirty-nine other higher education associations in support of affirmative action admissions policies that consider race and ethnicity as part of a holistic review of students’ applications. The AAUP believes that a diverse student body advances the educational objectives of colleges and universities, and that academic freedom affords institutions the ability to conduct holistic admissions. Our policy agenda opposes attempts to undermine race conscious holistic admissions at colleges and universities.


[1] Table 331.35, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d21/tables/dt21_331.35.asp?current=yes

[2] https://www.edweek.org/policy-politics/map-where-critical-race-theory-is-under-attack/2021/06