• The State of Higher Education.

    The following comes courtesy of Lane Crothers, a.k.a Politicalprof, a professor of politics and government at Illinois State University, in Normal, IL.:

    I remember when the lottery for higher education passed in SC. Every student that went to college received a voucher for x amount of dollars. So what do you think happened to the cost of higher education in SC. The tuition increased by the same amount as the voucher.

    This is a valid concern. There is no doubt that many universities have taken the increased availability of student loans and/or support programs from state and local governments and used them to raise their tuitions to meet the monies available. Thus, rather than economize, they saw opportunities to build “up charges” into their pricing, and get “extra” money (beyond the money cut by the state) into their budgets.

    On the other hand, as the article I linked to noted, this was more common at major research universities than it was at “mid-level” universities like mine. At places like mine, tax replacement more or less accounts for current tuition rates.

    Moreover, it seems to me that our understandable focus on tuition has left us incapable of seeing the real complexity of running a campus. Because of budget cuts in the 1980s and 1990s, for example, most campuses have huge backlogs of what we call “deferred maintenance”: the operating costs required to maintain, repair and replace aging buildings and infrastructure. When the states started chopping funding (again) in the 2000s, lots of campuses (like mine) were filled with buildings where plumbing, electric systems, roofs and other components were deteriorating quickly. So, yeah: lots of campuses took “extra” money and used it on buildings. Indeed, in some cases they used it to fix roofs; in others, they built climbing walls in elaborate student rec centers.

    I get that people feel squeezed 87 ways to Tuesday. I was unspeakably blessed to have gotten through higher ed when I did, and I am — frankly — worried at how even someone with the advantages I have will pay for college for my children when they get there … many, many years from now. I do really, sincerely, get it.

    The plain truth is that society no longer considers higher education a public good that the public should subsidize through taxes. Rather, society considers college a private good individuals should pay for on their own. This transition is occurring at a time when the existing architecture of higher education — lots of physical campuses spread around states — is aging, but no credible alternative has emerged to replace it. (Online just has too many problems to work for most people.)

    So this generation is getting squeezed on both ends: they have to pay to maintain the old system even as the public bails out. It’s not pretty.

    Sometimes I get sad.