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State Governments as Enablers: Will the States Kick the Rascals in the Ass?

July 1, 2011

Kevin Kiley at InsideHigherEd.com has published  a summary of cuts in public college and university budgets by the states.

Though a seismic shift in attitude toward public K-12 education has occurred,nothing of the sort has occurred in public higher education. Some state legislatures , Kiley reports, have cut budgets significantly: Arizona (24 percent), Colorado (20.9 percent), Pennsylvania (19%), Michigan (15 percent), and Texas (14 percent).  In California the University of California system warns of a 35% increase in tuition if Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to continue tax increases fails, but there are few systemic changes that occur.

Simply cutting budgets doesn’t change the dynamics of a failed system of higher education. Higher education in the United States has reached a point where costs can no longer be expensed from research grants, tuition income and state subsidies. Why don’t some state legislatures stop the subsidies entirely and force each institution to float “on its own bottom”?

A policy of “tough love” works with truants, why not our public colleges and universities?

The reason significant reform is not possible can be traced to university administrators, state legislators, and Faculty.

In Illinois, Northern Illinois University was stopped from creating a parallel Internet university.  A similar proposal at the University of California has run into Faculty opposition.  Public colleges and universities continue in old traditional ways, and parents and students continue to pay high tuition costs in order to earn a “college degree.”

Few public colleges and universities have even examined the “education” their students receive and the absence of any semblance of a core curriculum of required courses.

Official transcripts of students look more like a cross country bus trip than an educational program yet for that journey students pay on average $14,000 a year in tuition, room and board costs at public universities.

What is “public” about a state college or university that charges $20,000 and more a year for tuition room and board?

State legislators are alumni of the public universities in their states and have emotional ties to those institutions that gave them a start in life—and the university’s football team.  So, entertainment and “love bombing” of state legislators by public universities assures that nothing untoward happens when state legislatures meet.

In states with appointive education regulatory boards, career bureaucrats lead appointive members by the nose to assure that no radical notions affect education policy.

The can is kicked down the road again and again. In California, the University of California warns of a tuition increase of 35%.  Who is to say that 35% is enough?  Why not a 135% increase?

Fortunately, there is every reason to expect that reality will prevail.  At some point education consumers will balk and seek alternatives.

In 2008 when the banking crisis brought the U.S. economy to its knees, students made the intelligent choice to leave high cost private institutions and seek lower cost public institutions.  Those who could went to very low cost—and highly subsidized—community colleges.  But those colleges are now crowded to their limits and cannot digest another tranche of refugees from higher cost institutions.

With community colleges no longer performing “release valve” services for the system of public education as a whole, the options are reduced in large public systems to closing programs and entire public colleges or adopting alternative methods of instruction including distance learning and competency based degrees.

If nothing is done by public institutions themselves, education consumers will choose low cost distance education programs—or not go to college.

In the face of that shift from traditional education to alternative—or no—education, will the states continue to enable the bad habits of university administrators and faculty or will they kick the rascals in the ass?

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