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Research Articles

Vol. 22 No. 2

Public Purpose Under Pressure: Examining the Effects of Neoliberal Public Policy on the Missions of Regional Comprehensive Universities

June 19, 2018


Neoliberal ideology that narrows higher education’s purpose to strengthening the economy is a threat to the civic engagement agenda and public purposes of U.S. higher education. Regional comprehensive universities (RCUs) are broad-access institutions founded to embody public purposes of student-centeredness, access, and civic and economic engagement. These institutions educate 20% of all college students, including large proportions of low-income, first-generation, minoritized, nontraditional, and veteran students. This article presents a qualitative case study of four RCUs grappling with their public purposes within a state policy and funding context shaped by neoliberal ideology. Despite administrators’ efforts, the universities abandoned aspects of their public purposes to address neoliberal demands from state policymakers. Given the important role these institutions play in expanding educational opportunity and strengthening regional civic life, these findings carry long-term implications for the future of community-engaged research, the civic education of students, and the public purposes of higher education.