Approved by the Committee on Education on January 25, 2021
Approved by the Public Policy Committee on February 3, 2021
Adopted by the Board of Direction on April 30, 2021
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) believes that robust public funding by state governments for higher education - at the undergraduate and graduate levels - is in the best interest of the states and the nation. ASCE believes that access to higher education for all Americans is more important than ever. Access to higher education is essential for civil engineering to advance state and national interests. Furthermore, broader access to higher education facilitates the civil engineering profession's ability to draw from a larger and more competitive stock that reflects our nation's diversity.
State appropriations have historically served as a significant source of funding for higher education, but over the past two decades that support has waned. The Great Recession (2008-09) saw unprecedented cuts in higher education appropriations at the state level. Despite subsequent increases, state-level education appropriations per full time equivalent student (FTE) are still 8.7% below 2008 levels. The share of tuition paid by students in the past 25 years has increased from 31.3% to 46% in 2019. Even though the share of undergraduate students borrowing through federal and state loans has declined from 38% to 23% since 2011-12 [College Board, 2020], the average total student loan debt jumped from $23,765 to $30,062 since 2009 [USNEWS, 2020]. State support of higher education and research should be provided at a level sufficient to meet society's expectations and need for future engineers.
The civil engineering profession is expected to witness a compound annual growth rate of 2-3% from 2019 to 2029 as a result of rising government initiatives to repair the aging infrastructure. As the population grows and as our infrastructure ages, the demand for the civil engineering profession is expected to increase.
States play a key role in making higher education accessible. Many students rely heavily on financial aid from the states to attend public and private universities, as well as colleges and community colleges. Over the past two decades, reductions in state appropriations for higher education have resulted in increased costs, high student debts, and more barriers to securing a stable American middle class. Reductions in state support likely have a disproportionate impact on students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, which negatively affects access, diversity, and inclusion.
State government funding in support of engineering education is essential for maintaining sufficient engineering expertise to support society's needs. By making higher education accessible, states help prepare people for meaningful and good-paying jobs. America's economic competitiveness relies, in part, on a diverse pool of qualified engineers to design, build, and maintain the nation's infrastructure; conduct research; develop new products and technologies; and solve the challenging problems we face at the state, national, and global levels. Engineers help meet state and national needs and goals by ensuring that the public health, safety, welfare, and protection of the environment are addressed and achieved.
ASCE Policy Statement 555
First Approved 2018