A Wee Bit on Higher Education
Greg makes an innocent slip when he asserts that the value of a college education has declined relative to its cost. Disaggregated by field it is true for some, but in the aggregate the return on a college education has increased, higher tuition noted, as the country splits between high wage knowledge positions and low wage everything else. The importance of a college education is growing because the value of a high school degree alone is plummeting.
Tuition matters, but higher education involves far more sophisticated dynamics than buying a cheeseburger. "Sticker shock" scares away lower SES populations who do not understand the game. While a little dated, the situation described here has changed little. The reality of financial aid including Pell Grants and institutional support dramatically reduces the net cost of attendance for students with families of modest incomes. Still the poor kids are very loan averse, and as Greg correctly notes, will forgo higher education if it means incurring $40,000 in debt. Is the system turning poor students away? Absolutely, but it is complicated along a stratification of schools from top privates to community colleges.
The fundamental shift towards a higher tuition model reflects cultural changes set in motion by the Reagan administration that framed a college education as a personal benefit for the individual student instead of the societal benefit of a higher educated population. The reality is that both student and society benefit, but the two views offer different perspectives on who should pay. The Reagan view prevailed and has shifted the burden to the student and the student’s family. State appropriations have fallen significantly as a share of university budgets as tuition has increased dramatically to make up the difference. We now have a multi-faceted and complex revenue system and a complex cost system with many pieces of need based aid (Pell), scholarships and non-need institutional aid, federal loans, and now tax breaks.
In the specifics, he slips, but in principle, Greg points to a truth. Higher Education benefits society and we desperately need it. Our elected officials are complete hypocrites when they shift the financial burden dramatically to students and their families via tuition hikes and then hold meetings to discuss why we aren't producing more graduates.
Speaking of higher education, Daniel Scarpinato had a piece in the Arizona Daily Star last Friday indicating the stupidity gets even worse. Our enlightened state legislators are considering tying university funding to performance measures such as the graduation rate. Daniel quotes the Chair of the House Committee on Higher Education, Tucsonan Jennifer Burns-R, as claiming we need to produce more graduates in science and engineering.
How does one produce more graduates in science and engineering? What actions result in more high school graduates enrolling at the University of Arizona (or ASU or NAU) in these fields? Having no idea, our legislature (most lacking college degrees themselves) is considering withholding 25 percent of the state funding for each student (universities receive state support per student) until the student graduates. Holding back funds will graduate more students.
The sheer stupidity of the idea defies comprehension by failing to recognize that universities are already doing virtually all they can to retain and graduate every student that enrolls. Ever run a business? Is it good to lose a customer? Consider how much is invested to put that student into that seat as an incoming freshman, recruited, evaluated, admitted, financial aid package, scheduled, dorm arrangements, oriented, safe, and then have the person drop out? The investment is bi-directional in powerful ways. Universities hate to lose an enrolled student.
I know names and faces of people who pour their hearts into retaining every incoming freshman through a successful graduation and placement, and our legislators think withholding the resources required to support retention efforts is going to improve graduation rates?
Withhold funds and you create pressure to do what? RAISE TUITION, which as Greg points out, is problematic for enrollment and (I will add) for retention as well (but of course I am wrong as students never drop for financial reasons). Rising tuition hurts graduation rates.
What we need to attract and retain graduates in science and engineering fields are science and engineering jobs for those who graduate. For that, you need to have effective economic development programs that can create these kinds of jobs for the graduating seniors.
That’s right. EFFECTIVE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. We need gay bohemians and a cool coffee shop.
I could run an institute that facilitated the workforce development training of over 10,000 employed Tucsonans per year on less than the public support given to a coffee shop.
I left in May. Gutted, betrayed, and abandoned by dishonest and dishonorable people, SAIAT shuts down next month. I wish staff the best of luck in finding employment.
Perhaps the coffee shop is hiring.