VIA Dissent: Three Crises in Higher Ed Affordability

To place some of yesterday’s discussion of our historical challenges into context, I thought I’d pass along the economist Mike Konczal’s recent discussion of higher education’s debt crisis, from Dissent magazine.  Here’s a representative passage:

Privatization is an ongoing project in state-level school systems. Mark Yudof, the President of the University of California system, once described the evolution of the “hybrid university”:

“[T]he extraordinary compact between state governments and their flagship universities appears to be dead – or at least on life support…Though we believers in the civic value of education may lament it greatly, with the wage premium widening, education today is increasingly seen as a private, rather than a public, good. Consequently, many legislators appear more comfortable with students’ paying higher tuition than they did in the past, tacitly encouraging students to borrow today and pay back later…Paradoxically, to continue the long tradition of broad access for students to public research universities, these institutions will have to become more like their private peers; to ensure the access for low-income and historically disadvantaged students that low-cost tuition once allowed, I believe that public research universities will have to work hard to augment funds for student aid and scholarships.”

This is an active project, reformulating state schools so they mimic their private peers. This involves reducing state funding for students and having students pick up the slack. The privatization school doesn’t view accessible higher education as a social good, a necessary component to equality of opportunity, a means of creating alternate hierarchies of education, or part of the basic process of how a civilization functions with its citizens. It focuses on the private economic gains of a university education and finds ways to shift costs to private citizens, with debt to make up the shortfall. Finding ways to get students to pay higher tuition, like choosing out-of-state applicants, becomes a priority. This creates a cycle: the more public universities are defunded and reconceived as a private good, the less civic interest there is in defending them as a public good.

Ultimately, as Konczal points out, this discussion of affordability turns on the question of “what kind of public universities and education we want to have.”

So whose wants, needs, desires, opinions, demands are being attended to now, as we watch the transformation of public higher education across the board?



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