States are cutting funding and college tuition is rising and student loans are exploding and we are officially in a public higher education crisis. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities more states are pushing the burden on students and this may have an impact on the skill level of the next generation and their ability to successfully navigate the economic environment. The problems are a result of a number of issues related to budget cuts, increased tuition, and policy decisions.
The primary issue is that public college education is increasingly being removed out of the hands of the average student. During the recession it was necessary to cut state budgets to ensure that the books were in balance. Despite these cuts many states still were not able to balance their budgets in other areas. State appropriates from 2008 to 2013 for higher education declined around 19%, student expenditures rose 27% and enrollment has increased over 11%.
The report indicates that policy decisions appear to be the major problem. Although one cannot disagree with the concept that the decisions we make impact other things down the line we have to wonder if there is something more fundamental going on. Has the college education refused to change with the times and bulky systems are now eating a larger lion’s share of personal, state, and federal costs?
There are three fundamental problems. 1.) States must raise revenue and become more efficient, 2.) Higher education needs to reform to make it cost effective and convenient, and 3.) Higher education should become more relevant to both the individual student and their employment prospects.
Raising revenue doesn’t necessarily mean raising taxes but can mean raising economic activity that leads to greater revenue generation. Updating appropriate infrastructure and encouraging economic activity can create efficiencies and better long-term budgeting. Higher education must focus on their core responsibilities and encourage the development of the entire human being through innovative development that lowers costs. Higher education should be aligned to the needs of the modern market while still respecting the arts and other programs that foster the creativity needed to succeed.
We know that this is a huge problem and no one is likely to have all the answers. Yet through working together, brain storming, taking action, and implementing we can change the foundational aspects of higher education that allow more members of society to learn the skills they need to make their lives successful. We can no longer afford to bury our heads in the sand and pretend we don’t have some work to do. There are lots of bright people with bright ideas….we only need to find the one’s that will work. For now…we are engaging in a public discussion with few right or wrong answers.