American Higher Ed Will Never Be What It Was

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 6/04/2010 12:09:00 AM
Again, you don't have to look far to find IPE-relevant material. This one is straight off the front page of Yahoo! and points to more signs of the ongoing dismantling of America. Its creaking infrastructure may ultimately pale in comparison with the sharp budget cuts being applied to universities due to massive state budget deficits which show no signs of abating. Private universities are not faring wholly better as endowments' performances have been hit by economic turmoil. That is, "human capital" may have direr future consequences as public and private funding for higher education faces massive cuts. With the gravity of economic activity shifting East, it's somewhat inevitable that Western-trained academics are heading in the same direction.

I have previously posted about the routing of California system of higher education--previously the envy of the world [1, 2]. As the Christian Science Monitor now notes, this phenomenon is unsurprisingly US-wide. Bring on the shears. While the entire article is interesting, here is the part dealing specifically with the fiscal consequences of moribund economic times:
The economy, too, plays a part in the educational deficit. At least 39 states have cut assistance to public colleges and universities, and private institutions have seen returns on endowments fall 19 percent on average, the worst return since 1974. Across the country, many institutions have frozen salaries, imposed furloughs, trimmed campus services, and, in some cases, raised tuitions. These kinds of measures sent students into the streets in California earlier this year when they learned of a 32 percent undergraduate tuition hike in the University of California system. These kinds of measures also make top faculty look more keenly at offers from institutions abroad, which lure them with new labs, light teaching loads, and steady salaries.

And as federal stimulus money runs out and the recession lingers, administrators are scouring operational budgets, X-Acto knives in hand. While it makes sense to shut down programs with meager enrollment, it seems suicidal for liberal arts colleges to contemplate axing philosophy departments or for universities to consider boarding up the English, economics, computer sciences, or foreign language departments. Yet all of these and more are on the chopping block.

This worries even optimists like Richard Ekman, head of the Council of Independent Colleges, which works with more than 500 independent liberal arts colleges. He dismisses dire predictions about the future of liberal arts in an increasingly job-driven climate. "But if this recession lasts a long time, it will be very hard for the less wealthy institutions to persist," he says. "I also worry that the wealthy institutions, who have had to take in their belts a lot this year ... may be overreacting and doing things they ultimately will regret when times return to some semblance of normality a few years down the road."
Here is a question for all those deficits-don't-matter, USA#1-style theorists: is this the picture of America in rude health? Why can't American leadership channel a few more trillion in deficits to areas that are at least nearly certain to yield some future economic benefits? Yes, US higher education's status is still high in the league tables (like the UK's, it must be said), but Eastern institutions are undoubtedly rising and this trend is set to accelerate as the phenomena noted above take greater hold Stateside.

Like in so many other areas, America's higher education's better days have passed it. Don't go away mad--just go away. Head East, young academic, head East. There will be nothing left Stateside other than...massive deficits. What a surprise. Make no mistake: academia too goes where the money's at.