News that tuition will only increase by 5.5 percent next year is the best news students have gotten in four years. But while University President Bob Bruininks’ state budget proposal, a “50-50 partnership,” might be better than previous years, it should not be locked in stone. Higher education deserves better state support.
At the end of his tenure as University president, Mark Yudof made some frighteningly accurate predictions. He forecasted decreasing state support, causing public universities to turn to increased tuition and philanthropy. The University has been excellent at both – not only raising record private donations, but raising tuition at record levels as well. Yudof said he anticipated a “hybrid public research University,” one increasingly privatized in the face of insufficient state support. If the “50-50 partnership” becomes the model for future state allocations to the University, this should give all members of the University community pause.
Private funding will not come as easily for academic programs that do not generate a direct profit for large corporate donors. The pharmaceutical and agricultural industries do not have the same incentive to donate to scholarship drives or affordable health care as they do for donating matching funds for new buildings and research initiatives. This is not to say the University community should reject donations from corporate donors or cease funding important research. Rather, the University should recognize that unless it positions itself well it will be vulnerable to market forces manipulating its financial straits for profit and eroding its mission as a public, land-grant institution.
Both state and national government needs new leadership willing to question why higher education funding decreased 14 percent while funding for incarceration increased 25 percent. Low-income students and families are being priced out of public universities, and the income gap between those with and without college degrees is only growing. This is not worth the societal costs.
Strong leadership must be demonstrated within the University administration – fighting so tuition hikes do not exceed inflation, fighting for living wages and affordable health care for all University employees, and pushing the state to fulfill its responsibility to fund all academic programs, not just those that sell patents.