Officials remain skeptical of vouchers’ economics

Paul Sand

University officials debated yesterday the possibility of switching to a system where state funding is distributed to students rather than to individual colleges and universities.

The idea, similar to a Massachusetts higher education voucher system, was proposed during a panel discussion on the future of public research universities sponsored by the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

Dennis Ahlburg, Carlson School of Management associate dean and professor, said that while the voucher system approach would cover instruction costs at colleges and universities, it would not cover research costs.

He said institutions will be prone to teaching the most popular subjects and courses, rather than those that are more beneficial.

Because colleges and universities will actively vie for their business, students will see themselves as consumers – changing the dynamic at higher educations institutions, he said.

Anne Taylor, Medical School associate dean and professor, said the controversial voucher system gives students too much say in curriculum choices.

“I don’t necessarily know that students know what is of value,” she said.

University President Robert Bruininks said the voucher system would harm University areas that serve a strong public purpose but are dependent on tuition for funding.

He said he is skeptical of the voucher system because there hasn’t been a thorough analysis of its effects.

Ahlburg said the University hasn’t demonstrated the value of higher education to the public.

“Maybe we just have assumed the public will appreciate what we’re doing, instead of (us) asking,” he said.

Addressing the trend of decreased state funding for public research universities, Bruininks said the University must find ways to make liberal arts and humanities programs a priority.

“No matter how we structure the University of Minnesota, we need to make sure we have a connection to the liberal arts,” he said.

Paul Sand covers University Board of Regents and administration. He welcomes comments at [email protected]