Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Today's Cost of Higher Education - A Tragedy!

Of all of the things that have been going on in the economy during the past 20 years, the cost of higher education stands out as the most egregious attack on the future of this country. You can surf the web for all of the statistics, I'm not going to waste my time looking as I have first hand knowledge of how education costs have grown way out of proportion with the rest of the economy. One could argue that health care competes, but I think it's a distant second.

The Obama administration today released information on the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009", also known as the Stimulus Bill, and outlined how education is treated into the near future. If you want to see the official government talking points, click on the following: (Power Point link to the Obama Stimulus Plan and Education) then click on "Power Point" link. There is good news and bad news. In order for stimulus funds to be used for higher education, each Governor must assure the state will maintain the same level of support for education in FY 2009-2011 as it did in 2006. Good luck to Rhode Island!!! Our incredibly short-sighted Governor has been dismantling the higher education budget for the state. He has hit these accounts so hard that it is estimated by 2013, the University of Rhode Island will no longer enjoy any public support.

What a tragedy and a failure of leadership. How did we get here? I've had the honor and privilege to teach students at the University of Rhode Island for the past 4 years. I have to tell you that things are a lot different than when I went to college (1968-1973). Many students today are working multiple jobs as well as doing their classroom work. By the time they graduate, many will have loans that approximate the value of a house. Young people that want to get married may well be sitting on debts that will be with them until they retire. Think about that!

I always start my first class each semester by asking students what they think my tuition was at the University of Massachusetts in 1968? Nobody has come close yet. Tuition was $50 per semester and room and board approximated $500 a semester. Students could get an entire year of education for around $1500. More important than that; students could work each summer and come close to meeting all of their educational expenses. Yes my family helped; they certainly were not rich, but when I graduated I had no debt.

When my son was born (1982), it was estimated that a college education in 18 years at a school like Brown University would cost around $10,000 per year. My wife and I began a savings program to build a $40,000 education fund. When my son went to college, we had saved $40,000. By the time my son had graduated, total costs approximated $160,000. It's a good thing that he got some significant scholarships. It's also a good thing that I only had one child to worry about. How the hell is the middle class in this country going to afford to educate their kids?

For years I've wondered why politicians have not moved this issue to the front burner. I think the answer lies in the fact that many of our politicians are very wealthy and the issue never connected with them. Certainly the issue never connected with the past administration. It feels good to have a President and First Lady that just finished paying off college loans a few years ago; and this only happened because of Barack Obama's book deals. President Obama is finally giving this issue the exposure that it needs and doing something about it. Education is still going to be a reach for middle class kids as the proposals that I've seen only touch the surface.

I think a lot more needs to be done here. Maybe nobody's buying a house right now because all of our young people are swimming in debt. Certainly, as banks and the government tighten the mortgage rules, our young people are going to struggle for many years to come. I don't think that's fair, but I'm confident that Republicans don't have the answer. Hell; they never raised the question!


1 comment:

  1. Like all institutions, colleges and universities have overhead like salaries, landscaping, maintenance, utilities etc.
    They do not consume raw materials like a manufacturing plant does.
    They do not consume the massive amounts of energy that production lines require.
    On the other hand, they do get grants to fund research and they have growing numbers of alumni that donate money each year.
    So why do they need to raise the cost to students at such an obscene rate?
    Someone please tell me. Where does the money go?