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This Inside Higher Ed story claims that an injection of $2.4 billion “saved” public higher education last year – as the recession caused states to reduce funding for public schools by $2.8 billion. The difference was made up for by other fees and student tuition.

This is a really tiring story. How come the private for-profit colleges can deal with enrollment increases and declining national income without much of a hitch? In any case, here are some ideas for you.

  1. The article I link to above indicates that there are 10.8 million students at public universities. If state funding fell $2.8 billion, and schools feel compelled to spend that $2.8 billion nonetheless (you know, we just HAVE to offer our major in Cherokee Poetry Studies and have those climbing walls kept clean and sturdy), that represents $259 per student per year more in tuition. Hardly crippling.
  2. When times are good (or are they ever good for you guys in the public higher ed sector?) how about doing what a good business does and plan your spending and long-term projects so as to protect yourself from when these sorts of things happen? If I were running a small business, with extremely volatile revenues from year to year, my decisions about what to invest in and what type of operation to run would be extremely different than if I were in an environment where I could plan my revenues out with a little more certainty. And don’t give me this hogwash about not being able to do this – I’ve been reading articles about higher education for 15 years, and this story is not exactly the first time I have come across this “crisis.”
  3. How come the goal of any real business is to increase its customer base and to serve them better, but when this happens in higher education it is a crisis? What planet am I living on? I’d love to go to a meeting of Apple or Google shareholders where the CEO gets up and tells them that, “I think the big picture is sort of unrelenting increasing demand for our iPod and iPad is outpacing our ability to finance this customer growth even with reasonable increases in productivity”. He would immediately be fired, the stocks of Google and Apple would crash, and it would be used as an example of corporate mismanagement in every single introductory business school course. Yet, this is exactly what we hear from influential people inside the public higher education community:

I think the big picture is sort of unrelenting enrollment demand in higher education outpacing the ability of the states to finance this enrollment growth even with reasonable increases in productivity in higher education,” Lingenfelter said

When a drug addict comes to you for the 9th different time and asks for money to go get a sandwich, do you still continue to “feed” him?

2 Responses to “Public Higher Education as an Addict”

  1. SusanC says:

    As a professor at a public university (in California no less) I ask you,
    Where is my sandwich? And it better be served on whole wheat, locally produced bread.

  2. Speedmaster says:

    >> “When a drug addict comes to you for the 9th different time and asks for money to go get a sandwich, do you still continue to “feed” him?”

    If the drug addict has a gun to your head (IRS), you most certainly do. 😉

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