Aim is to spark national debate
With student debt mounting and the costs of college going out of reach for families, faculty across the United States are developing proposals that would once again make public funded higher education accessible to all.
The faculty-driven effort, sponsored by the two-year-old Campaign for the Future of Higher Education, aims to spark a national discussion of the issue. Among the organizations taking part in the campaign is CCA and the California Faculty Association, which represents faculty in the California State University system. In February, the Campaign publicly unveiled three working papers containing proposals that would make higher education free to all. The release of the proposals was timed to coincide with the Feb. 12 birthday of Abraham Lincoln, who in the midst of the Civil War, provided the first wave of funding for federal land grant colleges.
Land grant colleges
Sponsored by Vermont Congressman Justin Morrill in 1862, the Morrill Act initiated America’s public higher education system by helping to endow colleges in every state that were accessible to the “sons of toil.”
“Yet today, we are tearing down this very system of education. Legions of self-styled education leaders and consultants have declared that we just can’t afford it anymore. We in the CFHE believe that is just wrong,” said Lillian Taiz, president of the 23,000-member CFA. “What we are missing is the commitment and courage that Lincoln and Morrill had.”
Two of the CFHE working papers address the common assumption that funding higher education through public means rather than through skyrocketing tuition is simply impossible. One explores the notion of free higher education and examines what the actual cost to provide such an ideal would be. The papers can be viewed at http://futureofhighered.org.
Bob Samuels, a University of California faculty member in San Diego, argues we could make big strides towards free public higher education by reallocating current governmental expenditures for higher education and by eliminating regressive tax breaks.
The second paper, using the state of California as a test case, looks at the real magnitude of returning to recent, more adequate levels of state funding for higher education. Stanton Glantz, a professor at UC San Francisco, describes that “resetting” higher education funding to more adequate past levels would require only very small adjustments in the median income tax return.
The third paper explores a currently unused tax revenue source that could be tapped if there were the political will to provide adequate public funding for higher education. Rudy Fichtenbaum, an economics professor at Wright State University in Ohio and national president of the American Association of University Professors, explains how to achieve vastly improved funding for higher education through a miniscule tax on selected financial transactions.
Unless changes are made, faculty warn, higher education in the United State may end up as a tiered system which offers private universities for the wealthy, token access for middle class students, and nominally funded public colleges for working class and students of color that focus on workforce preparation. All in all, the trend will create more inequality in society.
While noting the presentation of the papers is just a first step, the faculty presenters believe there is reason for hope, and point to California’s recent election.
“The passage of Proposition 30 is a signal that we can make changes. We can move away,” Taiz said. “What has paralyzed people is that this is the new normal. These papers demonstrate that there are alternatives. This isn’t the new normal.”