Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Legislatures fail across the country

An astute reader submitted this brief story from the Washington Post.

It reports that a bipartisan panel argues that legislatures across the country have failed in their responsibility to provide high-quality college education for all citizens.

We know that this is true here in Wisconsin. The legislature and our "education" governor have used the UW system and tuition dollars to balance the state budget. I am afraid that it will happen again. I have noted often how poorly our state is doing.

It is good to see others making the same argument.

Here are some other stories, courtesy of UW system in the news site:
Chronicle of Higher

Christian Science Monitor


Bill Wresch said...

Scanning those articles, I find many references to what legislatures should do, and what the feds should do, and it may be that all the actions described are necessary and important. But it seems to me they miss an important point. Higher education is now seen as a private good rather than a public good.

Think back to how this U started -- free tuition to help provide better teachers in one-room schools. The state was willing to use the sale of swampland to finance a significant need -- better teachers.

But sometime in the last decade or two we realized that a college education was worth $1 million in extra income to the recipient. (We periodically advertise this fact on various bulletin boards around campus). It may be that the state accrued additional benefits aw well, but the primary benefit was to the individual.

So why should other taxpayers, other parents, other retirees, give your kid money so he can make his own million dollars? From the purely financial perspective, it seems perfectly reasonable for a child to invest $40,000 or $60,000 or $80,000 in a college education to reap a $1 million dollar return.

We can think of many more benefits to a college education, and we can argue at length about how the state benefits from having educated and rich citizens, but the argument is a different one than we would have made a century ago when being a teacher was a huge personal sacrifice (read the archives some time about what those kids went through). It is not too surprising to see citizens now want the beneficiaries of education to bear more of the cost.

lammers said...

Bill, that's one downside of the "get-educated-get-rich" line that universities have been peddling that hadn't occured to me. Good point.

I had always objected to that sort of ballyhoo on the grounds that it draws in too many unmotivated and uncommitted people who are unprepared for collegiate work or lack the wherewithal to adequately take advantage of it. We have far too many students here who have no other motivation than, "Well, gosh, I don't want to be poor!"

Some of them wise up and get with the program and actually achieve an education. Others seem to think that all they have to do is go through the motions and put in their time, and life's rewards will flow their way. When they graduate with a 2.1 GPA and find themselves unmarketable, they feel they've been misled: "I've got my B.A.! Where's my million bucks??"

The Wizard's speech to the Tin Woodsman should be required viewing for all incoming freshmen. A great bit of social satire, that.

Lake Winneblogo said...

Both of you are clearly on to something about the change in the way universities are marketed.

That is why it is so important to stress the vitality of the liberal arts. The skills that one should learn in college benefit society as much as they enhance the earning potential of an individual. Engaged, critical thinking citizens is what makes a democracy flourish. The liberal arts are about cultivating such capabilities.

If students also gain a specific job skill, so much the better, but all of society benefits when the liberal arts flourish.

We need to make that case repeatedly, since it has been drowned out by the practical notion of financial gain.

Wes said...

A few years back, the place where I did my masters (and am finishing - this year, by God - my Ph.D.) had billboards with the simple four-word message "Learn more, earn more."

Repulsive. Really.