Saturday, October 23, 2010

Republican-Backed Destruction of Higher Education


-by Olivia Coleman

Higher education, as many students across the nation can attest to, is under threat. Tuition costs have risen at staggering rates well above inflation, and state funding of public universities has experienced massive cuts. Students just now graduating are saddled with debt as they enter a dismal job market that is particularly brutal for workers in their twenties.

While American universities are hurting, our nation falls behind other industrialized countries in numbers of degree holders. A recent College Board report shows that the United States came in twelfth in a list of countries sorted by percentage of 25 to 34 year olds with a tertiary degree. The United States was previously a leader in this age category.

State cuts in higher education spending are a large part of the problem. According to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 43 states have cut funding for public universities, effectively hiking up tuition to astronomic levels. For example, the University of California increased tuition rates by over 30 percent, and its state university system cut student enrollment by 40,000.

If it seems bleak now, the immediate future of higher education doesn't look all that much brighter either, if Republicans have their way. In Minnesota, Republican Representative Tom Emmer, now running for governor, has proposed cuts for higher education spending in the next biennium by a whopping 417 million dollars. In Louisiana, while Republican Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana travels the nation supporting fellow Republicans with their respective campaigns, his own state's university system is deteriorating rapidly.

While this is only a snapshot of Republican-backed measures to roll back on state higher education spending, the Chronicle of Higher Education asserts that Republicans gaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives in November could spell further disaster for universities across the country. A recent Chronicle article noted:

If Republicans gain control of the U.S. House of Representatives, which many political experts and polls predict will happen, party leaders have said they will rein in domestic spending, which could lead to significant cuts in higher education. And Republicans, on the whole, have historically been more supportive than Democrats of for-profit colleges.

Indeed, last month House Minority Leader John Boehner proposed rolling back "non-security discretionary" spending including money devoted to higher education to 2008 levels. The fact- checker, PolitFact, estimates that these proposed cuts could impact university education budgets by a percentage as high as 24%.

As pointed out in the Chronicle article, the burgeoning popularity of for-profit colleges and the Republicans' rather lax stance on doing anything about their fraudulent practices will create increased levels of student debt, leaving graduates with a hefty bill and a practically useless degree.

There's no doubt that the recession must necessarily change the way that local and federal governments spend. But to sacrifice higher education only further perpetuates the problem.

Successfully climbing out of the recession requires a solid workforce. As low-skill jobs are increasingly becoming outsourced, the need for an educated populace is even more instrumental. Creating jobs a necessary ingredient in stabilizing a bleeding economy-- will be a useless measure if we don't have highly skilled, educated employees to pick up the pace.

This guest post is contributed by Olivia Coleman, who writes on the topics of online colleges and universities. She welcomes your comments at her email Id:



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