Sunday, February 15, 2015

As the cost of a public college education soars out of sight for more and more Americans, state university spending is cut still more


And now leading the charge is none other than
Wisconsin Gov. "Beam Me Up, Scotty" Walker

The $2500 in grants Michael Baynes received this semester covered less than half of just his tuition at Arizona State U. He has already racked up $17K in student loans.

"Total student debt now surpasses $1 trillion and is growing by the day. For the first time ever, according to a recent study, families are shouldering more of the cost of public university tuition than state governments."
-- from "Going to a public college isn’t as affordable as it used
to be
," by the
Washington Post's Danielle Douglas-Gabriel

by Ken

This story isn't exactly ripped from the headlines. Or rather these stories -- a pair of them, which unveiled in quick succession a couple of weeks ago, and which interlock in ways almost too obvious to call for pointing out. What's more, even when these stories "broke" they didn't exactly command major headlines. Nor, in the weeks since, have they exactly attracted a crush of follow-up attention.

The first isn't even so much a story, in the news-biz sense, as it is a frightening trend (at least it frightens the daylights out of me) caught at a particular point in time: Danielle Douglas-Gabriel's "Going to a public college isn't as affordable as it used to be" in the Washington Post. Surely there have been other such pieces of reporting, and surely, alas, there will be more. As it happens, though, a chunk near the top of Danielle's piece perfectly sets the stage for the other story, which was undoubtedly percolating even as her story found its way into print.

Danielle began by sketching the financially ruinous financial position of a student at Arizona State University named Michael Bayne. Then she notes, "It used to be that students such as Bayne could attend a public university and graduate with little to no debt."
Then came the recession, when state governments slashed funding of higher education and families began paying higher tuition bills.

Now, even as the economy recovers and taxpayer revenue is pouring back in, states have not restored their funding, and tuition keeps rising, leaving parents and students scrambling to cover costs.

Total student debt now surpasses $1 trillion and is growing by the day. For the first time ever, according to a recent study, families are shouldering more of the cost of public university tuition than state governments.

No state has cut its higher education funding more since the recession than Arizona, which slashed per-student spending by 48 percent since 2008, from $6,387 per student to $3,305 per student, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank. All but two states in the country — Alaska and North Dakota — are spending less per student than they did before the downturn.

In Virginia, funding has been cut by nearly 25 percent; in Maryland, by 12 percent; and in the District, 5.4 percent.

Tuition at public universities, meanwhile, has risen. The cost of Arizona’s four-year public colleges has increased more than 80 percent, to $10,065 from $5,572.

“The recession taught legislators that families will bear the cost of higher tuition, so that sent a signal to the state that it is possible to transfer the buck,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of education policy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Now there is little incentive to reinvest.”

States across the country are wrestling with decisions over whether to raise taxes or cut programs to replenish funding for colleges. And it’s not easy in some cases to find the money for higher education.
"Little incentive to reinvest" indeed, Professor Goldrick-Rab. Funny you should say that, because even as Danielle's piece appeared, there were rumblings about the attack your governor was about to launch on your very own school, one of the country's most admired public universities, but also including the rest of Wisconsin's public higher-education system in his budget announcement on February 5: a cut of $300 million over two years. On January 28, was reporting "Walker calls for steep cuts to Wisconsin university system."
First the unions, now the university system.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is calling for steep cuts to the University of Wisconsin System, while offering the network more freedom in exchange, in a controversial plan his office says is meant to provide more financial certainty.

The Republican governor, known for his dramatic battles against the public employee unions, moved to overhaul the university system at a time when he's also flirting with a potential presidential bid. Walker, after delivering a rousing speech over the weekend to a conservative summit in Iowa and forming a new political group, told Fox News on Tuesday he's "very interested" in a possible run.

But his university plan, which would cut funding by $300 million over two years, promises to keep him plenty occupied in Madison. The proposal would give more autonomy to the governor-appointed Board of Regents, which oversees the system's 26 campuses, on a wide range of issues, including raising tuition without Legislative approval starting in 2017.

The proposal is already facing criticism from those who say it could allow unchecked tuition increases. . .&nbsp. .
In the event, the wily Gov. "Beam Me Up" Scotty pre-checkmated complainers about "unchecked tuition increases" by proposing a tuition freeze, meaning that the Wisconsin system schools, deprived of their only normal way of increasing revenue, would be faced with doing what's done by packagers of orange juice and ice cream who don't want to increase their prices: shrinking the package. As Wisconsin universities lose their better faculty people and choose among which other resources to cut back on, students will have an opportunity to get as much education as the schools can afford to give them.

Note one other point made by UW-Madison Professor Goldrick-Rab: "The recession taught legislators that families will bear the cost of higher tuition, so that sent a signal to the state that it is possible to transfer the buck." This, I think, is an excellent cue for --


What's the deal, you're probably wondering, with this Michael Bayne, mentioned by the Washington Post's Danielle Douglas-Gabriel in connection with the drastic cutbacks state governments have made to higher education, most drastically of all Arizona. Okay, here's Michael's story:
Michael Bayne has done everything you’re supposed to do to avoid taking on too much debt for college. He lives off-campus to save money on housing. He’s always working at least one job — sometimes two. And he enrolled at an in-state public school, Arizona State University.

But it’s not nearly enough. The $2,500 in grants Bayne received this semester covered less than half of his tuition at ASU. A decade ago, the same amount of aid would have been enough to pay his entire bill.

“My parents don’t have money to help me, so to help pay for tuition, pay for books, pay for everything, I work a full-time job,” he said. “And I still have $17,000 in student loans.”
Arizona, Danielle writes, "once had one of the most affordable university systems in the country. "
Its three schools — Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University — received $1 billion a year from the state’s general fund, which kept in-state tuition below the national average.

Then came the housing bust, and state revenue plummeted. Arizona cut tens of millions of dollars to support its universities. Administrators eliminated more than 2,100 positions and 182 colleges, schools, programs or departments.

The same story played out across the country.

At the same time, full-time enrollment at state schools increased 10 percent, as students sought degrees to help them in a dismal job market.
Viewed from one state's perspective, it looks like this:
Arizona is facing a $1.5 billion deficit. And local law prohibits policymakers from touching the budgets of many state programs, but not higher education.

This month, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced $75 million in further cuts to higher education in his budget proposal. That represents about 10 percent of the funding that the state provides the universities.

“Governor Ducey believes higher education is an investment, both for the state and for individuals, and he will continue working closely with the regents and the presidents to ensure Arizona universities remain successful,” said Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for the governor’s office.
And in fact, Danielle reports, "Arizona has restored $90 million for its universities in recent years. Tuition has leveled off."
But there is no telling whether tuition hikes can be avoided in the face of another round of budget cuts.

“As dollars were available over the past couple of years, our legislature has recommitted funding. However, since then the state budget position has darkened,” said Eileen I. Klein, president of the Arizona board of regents.

She said that before the recession, 65 percent of the universities’ funding came from the state. Now it’s down to 25 percent.

“We don’t know when or if the funding levels will return to pre-recessionary levels, so we’ve been thinking about how can we create new funding models that recognizes this era of diminished commitment from the state coffers,” Klein said.
So the Arizona state universities are scrambling, turning to "foundations and companies" (all with a totally disinterested view of education, no doubt), and seeking to attract more out-of-state students, often offering merit-based scholarships that deplete the amount of money available for aid to state residents.


UW-Madison -- one of the country's most admired public universities

The story of Governor Scotty's attack on the state higher-education system has certainly attracted attention in-state. For example, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank issued a statement that begins:
We are willing to do our part in solving the state’s fiscal challenges, but a $300 million cut to the base funding of the University of Wisconsin System is too much. It would jeopardize the investment by Wisconsin taxpayers who have created a world-class institution in UW–Madison. It would hurt our students by increasing class sizes, reducing program offerings and potentially lengthening the time to graduation. And it may provide less access for Wisconsin students to the state’s flagship university.

Flexibilities in purchasing, management of building projects and authority over a pay plan for university employees offered through a public authority model are welcome reforms that would eventually allow the System to function more effectively. But the public authority will take some time to create and implement and will provide no budget relief in the short-term. [My own suspicion is that these measures of "independence" are designed to balkanize and further weaken the system. -- Ed.]

“While the UW System has found and will continue to find ways to operate more efficiently, this cut to higher education, the largest in state history, goes too far, particularly given the previous reductions in state support in past state budgets.
Also commended to your attention, and the governor's, is a plaintive post by UW-Madison doctoral candidate Michael Mirer,"Scott Walker thinks my university has fat to trim. Yet my department is barely scraping by."

But to an outsider there is the depressing feeling that once again the anti-Scotty talk seems to be the usual band of anti-Scotty whiners, the ones who throughout his regime of class warfare have pushed him to all manner of test, including both recall and reelection, all of which he has survived triumphantly (with, of course, continuing megabucks support from his billionaire buddies), making him stronger, and now to the talk of him as a possible Republican presidential candiadate. And there's surely plenty of political gain to be had from attacking something as elitist as fancy-pants universities, especially among people who, like the governor, have literally no idea what the function of a college or university is, which is not job training, as one state legislator seemed to assume when he supported the governor's proposal with sneering reference to research that isn't focused on economic growth. The fact is, that isn't how either research or economic growth works, but try explaining that to people who have no idea how they do work.

Like the governor himself, who sneeringly proposed that all the state universities and colleges have to do is have faculty members teach one extra course. It's easy to say things like this when you don't have, or want to have, any idea of how such institutions function, and when you have a deep in-built hostility to education and learning generally. In this connection it's hard not to point out that Governor "Beam Me Up" doesn't himself have the benefit of a college education.

(The exact circumstances of the future governor's drop-out from Marquette in the spring of his senior year remain murky. Check out WaPo reporter David Farenthold's "As Scott Walker mulls White House bid, questions linger over college exit." One point seems clear: that subject is kidding in his protestations over the years that he was more or less dragged into politics. To everyone who knew him in college, it seems pretty much that politics is pretty much the only thing that interested him back then. As a matter of fact, if he hadn't dropped out, he wouldn't have had enough credits to graduate with his class in any case.)

Of course the "Beam Me Up" man and his supporters would say that it's mere elitist snobbery to hold his lack of a college degree against him. "Look how he turned out!" they would say.

The funny thing is, I might say the same thing.

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At 5:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All those "high-paying" jobs our lying federal-level officials keep blathering about are going to go to Indians, Thais, and Koreans once Obama and his GOP and Blue Dog buddies ram it through the dorsal port of the American working class. College is just where rich kids will form life-long associations which will be utilized in their business-management careers. The unemployed will have no need for higher education since they will be scrounging their next meals from the dumpsters outside the luxury residential compounds - assuming the armed foreign guards don't use them for target practice.


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