State appropriations for public higher education have just faced another tough year. And yet, public institutions have faced many such years over the past three decades. Despite steadily growing student demand for higher education since the mid-1970s, state fiscal investment in higher education has been in retreat in the states since about 1980.
In fact, it is headed for zero.
Based on the trends since 1980, average state fiscal support for higher education will reach zero by 2059, although it could happen much sooner in some states and later in others. Public higher education is gradually being privatized. – American Council on Education, Winter 2012 newsletter.
There have been increasing complaints about college tuition costs. I, myself, have been shocked at the incredible price per year of some colleges. The question keeps being asked as to why the costs are increasing faster than inflation. Well, there is a reason, and it is not what you think.
In this country, the privatization wave has been growing since the 1980’s. That wave has included colleges. Not just the American Council on Education, but other organizations are now beginning to warn on what is the real problem. The real problem is not overpaid university professors. As an aside, I am becoming rather tired of the most common American solution being to lower someone’s wages. The real problem is that the states have slowly been losing their commitment to higher education.
There used to be a time when the states saw the support of higher education as part of opening the doors to the youth of today so that our tomorrow might be better. That is slowly going away under the pressure of pay-your-own-way philosophies. We used to believe that by giving opportunities to youth who might not otherwise be able to attend college, that we could uncover future leaders who might otherwise be underused in an unsuitable job. We used to believe that it was worth investing in our youth in order to ensure their success.
Funding figures show that, whatever we might give lip service to, we have stopped believing that. While many countries, including some of the most successful, subsidize higher education heavily, we are going the other way. While we are seeing more and more foreign higher education graduates come to fill slots in the USA, we fail to see that this is because we are not supporting enough of our own citizens to fill the needed gaps in this country. We blame the teacher, or we blame the professor, or we blame this supposed system. We fail to note that education spending per capita is dropping.
Finally, we leave our youth with an even worse burden. The foreign graduate who comes to work here comes to work here with little debt. They are quickly able to set up a successful practice, or a successful office, or a successful professional career at an early age. Meanwhile, our youth are burdened and shackled to servicing a debt that disables them from setting up successful practices or businesses for several years.
Philosophically, we point to the exceptions (the great entrepreneurs, the great inventors, etc.) and set them up as though they represented what is possible for each and every person. By philosophically making the uncommon person into the common ideal, we make the common person into into an uncommon failure. Not only do we leave our children with massive debt, should they go to college, but then we even look down upon them for failing to be uncommon successes.
I doubt that our spending habits will turn around. The pressure is for us to have more money to spend now, while caring little for the future. The fear that our children have about Social Security is a fear that should be extended to higher education. We are spending our children’s future with Social Security. We are failing to spend for our children’s future with higher education. We are filling the Social Security gap with meaningless political arguments. We are filling the college gap with imported foreign graduates while shackling our children with additional financial burdens.
I hope that someday we will see our way to up our higher education spending before it is too late.