College tuition rates are out of control in the United States. Students know it and parents especially know it. The culprit behind exponential tuition increases cannot be attributed to any single factor, but decreasing government support for colleges is the leading suspect. Inexplicably, the governors of several states have proposed even further cuts to higher education. An invaluable college education may soon be out of reach for many Americans.
Severe budget cuts to higher education have been in the news lately largely due to the actions of Republican governors Sam Brownback of Kansas, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. Brownback wants to cut $45 million, Walker is aiming for $300 million and Jindal has floated $200 to $300 million in cuts.
The governors, facing heavy criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike, claim that these cuts are needed to address serious budget shortfalls. However, many of these budget shortfalls were created because of ill-advised policies like tax cuts.
In any event, funding for higher education should be a top priority for every state government and any possible measure to retain funding should be taken. In fact, considering recent massive tuition hikes, higher education funding should be increased wherever and whenever feasible.
The blame for reduced public higher education funding cannot be placed on just Republicans. Democratic Governor of Missouri Jay Nixon proposed $43 million in cuts to higher education last year (although he promised to restore funding if the legislature approved his tax cut veto.) Additionally, 48 states are spending less per student than they did before the recession, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Even the most liberal states’ governments were forced to make cuts from higher education in the midst of the financial collapse in 2007-2008. However, even though states have largely recovered from the worst of the recession, most are still funding public universities at the same level. According to the report referenced earlier, the state of Missouri has spent 27.4 percent less per student since 2008.
The news is not all bad for Missourians, though. A Missouri House budget committee approved the restoration of $12 million in funding for higher education Tuesday. Furthermore, public universities in Missouri have only increased tuition 5.2 percent since 2008, which is much lower than most states (Arizona public colleges have increased tuition 80.6 percent).
Still, the political status quo is always changing and any recent restoration of funding belies the overall trend of state higher education funding decreases in all states over the past few decades.
Most implications of education budget cuts are clear and devastating. Faculty and staff jobs are cut, classes and programs are eliminated and tuition inevitably increases. What is more is the effect of such cuts on education as a whole.
Higher education is increasingly seen as a prerequisite for career success. If states continue to financially strangle public colleges into raising tuition, this prerequisite will become unattainable for the Americans who need such an education more than anyone. Also, as colleges continue to cut programs and trim staff, American universities depending on funding sources to plan for the future will left with even fewer resources. It’s a shame to see good ideas on improving programs at colleges increasingly stalled by budget concerns.
Education is often seen as the backbone of a functioning, engaged citizenry. In times of budget shortfalls, state governments must recognize this ideal and protect higher education budgets with a pervasive vigor.
American colleges are in a crisis and removing their ability to grow and prosper in the future should never be the answer.