Starving the colleges

Here’s a simple fact everyone ought to know, but most don’t.

Most Americans believe state spending for public universities and colleges has, in fact, increased or at least held steady over the last 10 years, according to a new survey by American Public Media.

They’re wrong. States have collectively scaled back their annual higher education funding by $9 billion during that time, when adjusted for inflation, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, or CBPP, reports.

No, really! Universities don’t want to raise tuition, ever — we think our mission is important enough that we ought to be providing college educations for free — but every year our administrators have to go before the state congress and outright beg for support, and almost every year the politicians see the education budget as something they can raid for other pet projects. Every tuition increase is a response to declining state support.

I didn’t know this, though.

And the United States remains 13th in the world in the number of 25- to 34-year-olds who have some kind of college or university credential, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development says.

“Fifteen or 20 years ago we had the most highly educated population in the world,” said Kevin Reilly, former president of the University of Wisconsin System, who now runs a program at the Association of Governing Boards called the Guardians Initiative to help university trustees push back against public and political skepticism about the value of higher education.

Falling behind the likes of South Korea, Canada and Russia in the proportion of people with degrees “is not a trend we can tolerate if we’re going to continue to be competitive in a global knowledge economy,” said Reilly. “More and more of our people are going to have to be competent at higher and higher levels of knowledge and skills. We’re really damaging the future of our competitiveness and I would argue even our security.”

“Make America Great Again” seems to translate to “Make America Stupid Again”. Or maybe stupider? I don’t know, can’t grammar properly anymore. Brain slipping away. Feed me knowledge before I become a Republican.


  1. raven says

    Once again, I will post the Boomers Lament about the cost of a good University education.

    In the early 70’s, I went to a good public university with heavily subsidized tuition.
    My tuition the first year was around $600.
    The tuition now is over $9,000 and has been going up rapidly lately.
    I didn’t even pay anything close to $9,000 for four years.
    The reason why is obvious, tuition is no longer heavily subsidized by the state.

    I graduated debt free and…completely broke.
    This was not unusual for the time.
    Student loans existed but they weren’t as large or as common as they are now.

    For any young adults reading this, if you think you are getting a bad deal on higher education, you are.
    At least compared with the Boomers.
    But it could be worse.
    If we hadn’t solved Global Warming, you could be living on a planet with an increasingly chaotic climate system and rising oceans. (/s)

  2. says

    I have a master’s degree in German philology. I didn’t pay any tuition at all. The state even gave me a bit of money (I managed to get three different scholarships over the years). I studied in Europe, I’m 27 years old now.

    Obtaining education isn’t a problem everywhere. Some countries don’t suck as much as the USA.

  3. says

    And now Ohio wants to let students pass exams with “God did it” because for some reason conservatives want to completely gut your education system while at the same time keep non-Americans from immigrating.

  4. Artor says

    While the funding for higher education has been drying up, the salaries for top administrators has been rising. The pie is getting smaller and the vultures are taking a larger portion of it. I wonder why the whole system is having problems? Somehow those things must be related, but I’m not sure…

  5. pocketnerd says

    Look, it’s simple: In order for the obscenely rich to become infinitesimally richer, labor has to be as cheap as possible. (Preferably free, but that pesky Thirteenth Amendment currently limits slavery to convicted criminals. The Federalist Society is working hard at rolling back this terrible infringement on the freedom of the mega-rich, but meanwhile the plutocrats have found a stopgap solution by throwing as many people in prison as possible.) That means keeping people uneducated, poor, and scared. If higher education isn’t sharply wealth-gated, if just anybody can better themselves with knowledge and worldly experience, what’s to stop them all from demanding higher salaries? Or worse, demanding sweeping political reforms that end the system-rigging, till-skimming, wealth-harvesting policies that favor the rich?

  6. mnb0 says

    In addition to @5: well educated understand and recognize the scheming of the filthy rich better and sooner. It’s the good old “keep them poor, keep them stupid and we can stay insanely rich”.

  7. jrkrideau says

    @ 4 Artor
    And one might want to look at football coaches. My guess is they make even more than most administrators. Still, football is important, not like some frivolous subject like evolutionary biology.

    Note : No sign of University of Minnesota, Morris in the list.

  8. seachange says

    Nichts gornisht helfen. Any increase in teh moneies? It’s all going to admin and not tenured professors. Universities are killing themselves, the state just happens to be helping them along with it.

  9. devnll says

    I am 100% on board with you here; after a debt-free degree from a US state school, I’ve spent a significant chunk of my working life employed by universities in several countries, and it really hurts to watch the kids now graduating with crippling debt while politicians strip the budgets and call for more tax cuts.

    That said, I don’t think the lack of public funding is the only culprit, even if it is the biggest one. At the last university where I worked, the head of our department got up to give his annual “state of the union”. He told us that the funding from the state was a flat amount – not based on enrollment or graduation rates – and covered a certain percentage of the costs for each student, the remainder to be made up for in tuition. Then he flipped to the very next slide where he detailed the plan for increasing enrollment. Do the math. Fixed amount spread over more students, spreads thinner, with each having to pay more. This might be justified if there are genuinely more qualified students clamouring to get in… but the next year he gave almost exactly the same talk except he’s added a few slides. One congratulating themselves on upping enrollment steadily for the last 10 years. One about the increasing cost of advertising to get enrollment to those levels. One about the problem of plummeting graduation rates. One about increasing class sizes. One about the costs of their new venture to support students coming in with an insufficient academic background.

    Why this unrelenting drive to increase enrollment? It pads the president’s resume – now they can tell the next board they apply to that they presided over X+2000 students, instead of X – but what else does it accomplish? Because the easiest way to up enrollment is to simply let more people in, qualified or not. And if a university degree is financially prohibitive – either because there is too little money, or it’s spread too thin – then you have a much smaller applicant pool to work with, so you have to drop your standards further still. Take mediocre middle-class students, because the poor smart kids can’t afford to come. And you have to graduate most of them, because no one is going to pay that much money if they don’t think they’ll end with a diploma. A university degree has less-and-less academic meaning at the same time that it gains more-and-more stature as a symbol of class divide.

    Clearly it is in the public interest that no one be prevented from a degree for financial reasons. That’s not the same thing as saying every single person should be given a degree, regardless of academic qualifications. Or even want one. So yes, fund your schools properly. Duh. I wish that was obvious. But also don’t drive enrollment like it’s the high score counter on a PacMan machine.

  10. says

    Keep in mind, though: back when we had the highest proportion of educated adults? Those are exactly the people who support the Republicans, support Trump, or support do-nothing base-betraying “Centrists” in the Democratic Party. It is no exaggeration to say that if the Baby Boomer generation were the same size as Gen X, we would not only not have President Trump but in 2016 neither party would have nominated the person they did in fact nominate. Our politics, which includes the funding of education, shows that having a diploma does not preclude wanting to make the world stupider.

    It’s probably not safe to draw any conclusions, but there has to be some significance to this. Are diplomas totally worthless as an indicator of the ability to think? Does education just wear off? Did the style of education in past decades encourage dangerous levels of greed and groupthink? Are diplomas valid but our current batch of older people are so terrible that education merely made them somewhat less bad than they otherwise would have been?

  11. notallhumans says

    US unis are overpriced. How about addressing the tuition raising feedback loops between administrative bloat, activism, sport, marketing/branding and amenities that have nothing to do with the scholarly or research enterprise? Maybe then politicians would be more willing to fund the unis?

  12. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    State governments have been cutting funding since long before the admin bloat kicked into high gear, and often the overpriced high-level administrators/presidents/chancellors are installed by the politicians to boost the bloat and fundraising to excuse further funding cuts (“not worth the investment because of waste” and/or “it’s already self sufficient because of private donors”).