Ed, Lower Funds
Jeff Parker/Florida Today
Our public school crisis extends beyond the
12th grade by Stanley Aronowitz. The emerging crisis
of America’s public colleges and universities is so
grave that for the first time since the end of World War
II, college may become
a financial impossibility for a quarter
or more of our nation’s young people.
As nearly every state in the union
suffers the effects of a recession and tax cuts, legislatures are slashing
higher-education budgets and public colleges
are responding by raising tuition and cutting financial aid. According to the
National Center on Public Policy and Higher Education, tuition and fees at
four-year institutions jumped 2 percent to 24 percent in
2002 in all 50 states. Next year
many students will face additional tuition hikes of 10 percent to 20 percent.
In New York, which faces an $11.5 billion
budget hole, Governor Pataki has proposed a 15 percent
cut in the state’s
higher-education budget and a tuition increase of about
35 percent for students attending state and city universities.
“Most observers agree [these measures]
represent only the opening round in what is likely to be
a series of painful adjustments to diminished revenues,” says
the center’s report, College Affordability in Jeopardy.
from low-wage households may be forced to drop out. Those who remain
enrolled will almost certainly need another job on top
hold down. But work without end spells less time for study. In either
case, the life chances of many working-class young people
are now severely reversed.
is an open secret that good jobs are disappearing faster than new opportunities
are being created. Those without a degree are consigned to work as cashiers
or domestic workers, in fast-food restaurants or non-union construction
sites, where they will be lucky to find minimum-wage, benefit-free employment.
For many public colleges, budget cuts and
tuition increases are not new. States such as Massachusetts,
California, and New York have been
running on empty for more than two
decades, and their
systems are threadbare. Their latest “painful adjustments” include
more hiring freezes and early retirements among full-time faculty, a combination
that spells further growth in poorly paid, part-time, contingent staff, bulging
class sizes, and fewer course offerings.
But once fat and sassy systems like
Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan now find themselves under the knife. And
state universities throughout the Midwest
the South—where state schools prospered during the industrial boom
of the 1980s and ’90s—are under siege as well.
administrators and trustees are being told, in effect, that the price
of survival for their public institutions is to become
more private. So, just as
shut their doors to needy students by raising tuition, they practice
triage by closing departments that cannot raise outside money and make
a criterion for faculty hires.
The budget crisis is no accident, but
rather the symptom of a calculated Bush Administration
policy to privatize public goods, including higher
education, by starving social programs. In its hurry to restore America
to the Coolidge
years, the Administration is undermining a central condition of American
development after World War II: the scientific and technological knowledge
provided by state universities.
The federal government could have found
the resources to bail out the states in their quest to
maintain education and other vital services.
But it chose
instead an immense gift to the rich of tax cuts and a costly military
together have put the federal treasury in the red. So governors,
most of them Republican, who have sought relief from Washington
This irrational policy is made politically
palatable because, unlike their counterparts in the fields
health and primary education,
and university administrators have not waged a vigorous campaign
to build public support for their institutions. They have failed
recognition for the idea that, given the realities of the job market,
be a right, not a privilege. And they have failed to refute charges
right that universities are “ivory towers” rife with
political correctness, that teach subversive ideas and dispense
It is a hard-won democratic achievement that
and universities are no longer the privilege of the rich, the
well-born, and the talented.
It is time for America’s 15 million college students and
their parents, along with 1 million faculty and instructional
staff of higher-education institutions, their unions and professional
the tens of millions
of college alumni,
to insist that higher education be a right, and that our public
colleges be well equipped and well staffed.
In some states, such
as California, faculty and staff unions at public universities
have begun to put higher education on
state legislatures. In
New York, these unions have joined other public-sector workers
to press for new taxes
on higher incomes.
But in most states the deep resistance to
new taxes means that prospects for higher education are
grim. In the states,
and nationally, coalitions must be
and Congress that our nation’s public-school crisis extends
beyond the 12th grade.
If that task is not accomplished, our
colleges and universities will soon revert to being enclaves
of the wealthy. And the
will be not
students, many of them black and Latino, but also American
Stanley Aronowitz is Distinguished Professor
of Sociology and Urban Education at the Graduate Center
of the City University
This article appeared in the
May 19, 2003, issue of The Nation.
Reprinted with permission.