U.S. Higher Education: High Quality Undercut by Disinvestment

Sometimes it seems as if the powers that be are committed to a policy of disinvestment in higher education.  Here in Texas we have just entered a new two-year budget period in which the Texas legislature and governor have eliminated 43,000 college scholarships from the main state program of college grants that are intended to make higher education affordable for students from families of modest means.  Even before this move there already were too few grants to meet legitimate needs.  The legislature and governor also budgeted zero state dollars for the next two years for programs such as the highly valued educational-aide scholarships, which since 1997 have made a college degree accessible for thousands of dedicated educational support personnel seeking a teaching career.

A new report from the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development points up the consequences of such penny-wise, pound-foolish policies for our country.  The OECD report, Education at a Glance:  2011, shows that our nation’s competitive advantage in higher education is eroding.  Today among the 20 highly industrialized OECD nations, Americans make up a third of the population aged 55 to 64 with a post-secondary degree.  Among those aged 25 to 34, however, the American share drops to a fifth. The decline reflects the rise of higher education in countries like China and Korea, but it is also a telling indicator of flagging support for higher education in the United States just when international competition is heating up.

AFT President Randi Weingarten noted in response to the OECD report that other countries are outpacing us by providing more affordable access without burdening their students with a mountain of debt.  She said:  “The lesson taught by the United States for decades—that economic prosperity is directly tied to a highly educated workforce—is now being applied by other countries. The report shows the United States must follow its own example and ensure its economic future by making a college education—at public and private institutions—an affordable reality.

“If we continue to slash education budgets, make college unaffordable and force students to shoulder great debt, our nation will struggle to retain its competitive edge. This report is a call to action for us to ramp up our support for colleges and universities to ensure that everyone who wants to achieve the American dream of attaining a college education can do so.”