President's Blog

We’re putting less of our collective money where out mouths are

With Kirk Heffelmire

When it comes to higher education, we putting less of our collective money where our mouths are.

According to a recent report from New America 62% of American adults believe that “a higher education system is good for society” and only 26% believe it is “mostly a private benefit for individual graduates”. The very existence of public universities would appear to indicate that we believe education benefits society at large, not just those who receive it. If education were only a private benefit for the individual getting the degree, we would be better advised to let people pay for their own.

Yet, as we have repeatedly discussed on this blog, public money has been retreating from our public universities at a worrisome rate. For example we described here how states have been shifting the financial burden from tax appropriations to tuition and how, not surprisingly, tuition ends up being higher in the states where appropriations are lower.  We have also discussed (click here) how money that used to go to public higher ed has been siphoned off to pensions, corrections and health care. A report from the Manhattan Institute confirms that, indeed, public spending on pensions, hospitals, and public welfare has kept going up while higher education has declined.


Clearly higher education is not the only desirable public service in need of resources. But I fear many people may not be aware of the policy choices we have made over the past decade or two. There has been insufficient public debate on the issue and I’m not aware of any candidate running for office on a “cut higher education” ticket. Instead, we’ve seen public investment decline through a policy change process resembling the proverbial frog in a boiling pot. Higher ed keeps getting cut, tuition keeps going up, and we only notice we’re in trouble when the large tuition bill arrives in the mail.

We should do better than that.