On the morning of August 22nd, President Obama released a new plan that would actually decrease funding for higher education by tying it to so-called “performance” evaluations, cost-cutting efforts, decreased regulations, and would threaten students with financial aid cuts.
In what amounts to an extension of harsh neoliberal federal policies such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RTTT) that have led to the massive corporatization of k-12 public schools, including excessive standardized testing, an explosion of unregulated charter schools that take public dollars, and an increase in rates of college remediation while decreasing critical thinking skills coursework, President Obama’s new proposal essentially blames the victims of massive cuts to public education spending for raising tuition as state funding has been slashed. These massive state funding cuts have been implemented by both Republican and Democratic legislatures around the country, resulting in extreme downsizing of public colleges and universities.
As state expenditures for college spending has decreased, student tuition has been increased to meet the budget demands for high quality higher education. These cuts have led to increased time to graduation via cuts to class offerings and increased work hours for students who must pay higher fees. Full-time faculty and staff salaries remain stagnant while the temporary faculty workforce has grown to 75% of the faculty, with 50% classified as “part-time” in order to be denied professional wages, benefits (including the healthcare that they were supposed to be provided due to the ACA) and the support they need to serve students effectively. Indeed, the most vulnerable and precarious students are now overwhelmingly taught by the most precariously situated faculty.
Education is not for profit, it is a human right! It is time for our government to take a realistic and socially responsible approach to funding higher education. Education can and should be free for all those who can benefit from it. The U.S. is the wealthiest country on the planet, so the calls for austerity are clearly not objectively required. Yet, the budget cuts are being imposed through our corporate-controlled government and the students are being short-changed, forced to carry the burdens in the form of high fees, tuition, and student loans.
The Campaign for the Future of Higher Education, a group of active faculty and professional staff unions and student leaders from around the country, has presented 3 papers describing exciting and viable plans for funding public higher education that would make college affordable or even free, while maintaining and even improving its quality. The 3 working papers released by the CFHE can be found here: http://futureofhighered.org/funding-higher-education-the-search-for-possibilities/#more-353
Our government can and must ensure the people of the U.S. have access to good quality higher education. As noted in the introduction to the CFHE Funding Higher Education paper series, “The way it used to work was simple—taxpayers funded public colleges and universities sufficiently so that students who were prepared to work a few hours a week could complete their degrees in a relatively short time with a minimum amount of debt. “ It is a matter of political will to obtain the necessary tax revenue that will lead to adequate funding at both the state and federal levels, not increased cuts and competition. This revenue could well be obtained through closing corporate tax loopholes and requiring that profitable corporations pay their fair share. Both Republicans and Democrats have shirked their responsibilities to provide for the people. We must hold our leaders accountable or we must get new leaders.
~ Prof. Kimberly King serves as Secretary of Education in the Democracy Branch of the Green Shadow Cabinet of the United States.