Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What was I saying about priorities?

A couple of days ago, I suggested a new national goal.

Last night Texas Yahoo, still proud of his C average in college, proved once again the current lack of interest in higher education in America. The loyal opposition's response? Nothing to write home about.

From Inside Higher Ed:
Higher education is rarely front and center in presidential State of the Union addresses — but rarely is it invisible, either, as it was Tuesday night in President Bush’s seventh such speech. In a speech heavy on foreign affairs, he did not mention any college programs or efforts or in any way refer to higher education. The closest he came to an issue relevant to colleges was a plea to Congress to cut back on the earmarks, or directed grants, that lawmakers love to give to their constituents, and for which many postsecondary institutions line up. The president’s references to education focused on his signature K-12 program, No Child Left Behind, which is up for renewal in Congress this year. College officials hoping for some nod from the president toward a hoped-for Pell Grant increase may wonder if his neglect of higher education portends what will happen in Congress in the coming year — with the No Child Left Behind reauthorization eclipsing higher education issues, including efforts to carry out the recommendations of the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education. (For what it’s worth, the only higher education-specific statement in Sen. Jim Webb’s Democratic response to the State of the Union address was a reference to “off the chart” college tuition prices, in a list of reasons why Americans are struggling economically.
Just to clarify, the principal reason tuition rates are high is because of the low level of support from the government. The funds must come from somewhere. When I was an officer of my graduate student union, dealing with our periodic renegociation of health insurance, I remember having to bring this home to graduate students who wished to add new coverage, and to avoid raising the deductible, both of which were opposed by the administration. Why? If more was spent on insurance, less would be available for fellowships. More coverage, fewer recipients.

Bear in mind, I am a person who finished my bachelor's degree with more than $40,000 worth of student loans. One great tragedy of the present Bush fiasco was the stepping back from the great program of Direct Student Loans, started under Clinton, returning to the brazen government subsidies of private lenders, wasting tax dollars to support private profits, at the expense of taxpayer and students. But, while I am aware of a move in Europe toward the "American model" of higher education, I wish to point out that requiring their students to pay a few hundred dollars in tuition is a far cry from the burdens of American students and families. The answer, however, is not to decry the cost of tuition, as if it were the fault of institutions of higher learning, but simply to raise the level of support from the government, increasing not only Pell Grant funding, but adding billions of dollars of support for graduate student and faculty grants, for new infrastructure, for increased hiring, for technology, for staff. Again, I ask, what are our priorities?

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