The funding news for our country’s public universities and colleges is grim, and that includes here in Oklahoma.
— Center on Budget (@CenterOnBudget) August 15, 2016
What happens to a culture that stops investing in critical inquiry, knowledge and learning? We all know the new pragmatics that state funding cuts to higher education mean students pay more in tuition and fees and some get priced out of the equation or take on huge student loan debt. But what about the bizarre act itself of de-funding our great centers of learning throughout the nation? Isn’t it a type of intellectual suicide?
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in an updated report notes that most states have cut support for colleges and universities from 2008-2016 or since the so-called Great Recession. This has driven up tuition, but that hasn’t kept pace with the state funding cuts so many colleges have reduced student services, classes and faculty positions. According to the report:
As states have slashed higher education funding, the price of attending public colleges has risen significantly faster than the growth in median income. For the average student, increases in federal student aid and the availability of tax credits have not kept up, jeopardizing the ability of many to afford the college education that is key to their long-term financial success.
Oklahoma, according to the report, reduced support for higher education by 21.7 percent from 2008-2016, making it one of 26 states that reduced funding by 20 percent or more during that time period. It’s unclear if that includes the nearly 16 percent cut to colleges and universities handed down by the legislature in its budget this past session. The 21.7 percent cut is adjusted for inflation.
The report notes that some states are beginning to reverse the trend. The report argues:
States that renew their commitment to a high-quality, affordable system of public higher education by increasing the revenue these schools receive will help build a stronger middle class and develop the entrepreneurs and skilled workers that are needed in the new century.
I would add that Oklahoma, in particular, needs a strong university system because of its low college graduate rate and the need for an educated work force. By cutting higher education year after year, the state is waving a sign warning away potential businesses.
The higher education system in this country right now isn’t on a sustainable path. The federal government will eventually have to come up with some type of student loan forgiveness plan, and tuition rates must become stabilized. An entire generation of students is getting priced out of an education or forced to take on exorbitant debt.