Friday, February 10, 2017

The Shared Benefits of a College Degree

Publicly-funded education has long been considered integral to the health of our country. In 1822, James Madison noted, “learned Institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty & dangerous encroachments on the public liberty.” He goes on to advocate for public funding of education as a path towards equal opportunity, noting “Without such Institutions, the more costly of which can scarcely be provided by individual means, none but the few whose wealth enables them to support their sons abroad can give them the fullest education… At cheaper & nearer seats of Learning parents with slender incomes may place their sons in a course of education putting them on a level with the sons of the Richest.”
How has public funding for Florida colleges fared in the past decade? According to a recent study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, state funding has been cut 22.7% since 2008, a reduction of $2,132 per student (a glimmer of hope is that since 2015, Florida has increased funding 3.5%, or $244 per student). As a result of public finding cuts, institutions have been forced to raise tuition costs. Indeed, Florida’s universities increased tuition costs by an average of 64.3% between 2008 and 2016, a hike of $2,490 per student. Florida is not unique in this, and these data point to a worrying national trend in higher education: less state funding and more reliance on students to carry the load of the cost of college education – many by taking on substantial student loan debt.

In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Philip Trostel argues that making cuts to higher education is easier when law-makers emphasize private, individual benefits of a college education (e.g., higher annual and lifetime income, longer life expectancy, more access to higher-quality healthcare, higher retirement accounts). When the value of higher education is framed on these individual benefits, law-makers and citizens alike often exclude discussions of the larger societal goods that result from higher education. Trostel argues that the notion of an educated populace as a public good has been completely omitted. With that omission, and the prevailing notion that private goods are best served by private means, financing of higher education has been deemed better-served by the free market, and not by public funding of universities.

Making higher education out of reach for those, as Madison suggests, with "slender incomes" has the consequence of inadvertently diminishing the "public mind" and threatening "public liberty." Shifting the narrative of the benefits of college education away from private gains to public gains might not change much in the short term. Over time, focusing on the shared social goods a society receives from college graduates can bring wider support for more public funding to achieve those aims, supporting a public that is ready to defend their public liberties.

By Greg Rousis

Keep updated with OFE:
OFE on Facebook

No comments:

Post a Comment