Calibankruptcy Revisited: Requiem for US Higher Ed

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 3/05/2010 06:38:00 AM
"Today we march!" he shouted. "Today we strike! Today we show solidarity with workers! Today the crisis has brought us all together. Public education is a human right we'll fight to the death!"

Once more, I am utterly befuddled by the neat-total lack of blog coverage of 21st century student riots in the United States given that academic bloggers from state institutions are a dime a dozen. Aren't they concerned with their own industry? Which, of course, is very odd given that it's front-page material on Yahoo! and elsewhere and goes to the very heart of the matter of America's much-vaunted system of higher education. A few months ago, I posted about how the University of California system--a shining example of American know-how in days gone by--was now being subject to swingeing cuts. Its continued diminution means, stimulus or no stimulus, the picture of higher education funding for state universities looks bleaker and bleaker going forward. Hence statements like the one above from a Berserkley student.

Given the usual parochial and Amerocentric news coverage, some perspective may be in order. In the UK, where public funding for higher education emanates more from central government, massive cuts have already been the order of the day, as have tuition hikes [1, 2]. The main difference is that while even elite institutions rely on considerable amounts of government funding in Britain, America still has its fair share of elite private universities which will be under less pressure to face the axe.

Nevertheless, it's often said that what goes for California goes for the rest of the country. With no relief in sight for state finances as pensions obligations mount and coffers dry [1, 2], expect the same thing to occur across this once-great nation. I suspect that American higher education is going to become less egalitarian as a consequence, although this really is one of the things you pay for running your country into the ground as thoroughly into the ground as America is doing. Deficits don't matter, right? It is here where American youth's low voter turnout--especially in state and local elections where those who have a say in funding public higher education get chosen--has a profound effect.

There is no lack of bellyaching about "greedy seniors" Stateside but it's true: their higher rates of political participation ensure that current trends are unlikely to change--health care and retirement benefits are comparatively sacrosanct alongside budget cuts to education. Yes, it's very much a piece in the narrative of American decline: you are looking back, not forward when you allocate the lion's share of public funding to your past and not your future. More so now than ever, economics deals with the allocation of scarce resources, and they're not going where they should in my humble opinion.

In a perfect world, there would be abundant funding Stateside for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security as well as public institutions of higher learning like the UC. The latter, once the envy of th world, is now a bona fide mess. Yet, even Obama's deficit-loving ways will barely suffice in meeting everything when the present value of total American obligations approach $99 trillion when discounted over an infinite time horizon.

Unless trends change drastically, the future of global higher education will increasingly shift away from Anglo-Saxon dominance. Featuring healthy coffers and governments that actually do something about turning rhetoric about education into action, Asian nations are busy building for the future and not the past alike what's happening in the United States and many other developed countries. I suppose it's good news for those like me from the region but not so good news for Americans and Britons who are not so mobile. The yellow man's burden may be hiring scores of unemployed white academics in fairly short order.

In any event, the SF Chronicle article from which I excerpted the militant student above paints a dire picture of where California in particular and America in general will be headed more and more (I also recommend the photos):
California faces a $20 billion budget gap this year, on top of $60 billion last year. The state has cut millions of dollars from education budgets at all levels to help make ends meet. The result is soaring tuition at the University of California and California State University. Courses are jammed, and many students can't get in at all. Lecturers have been laid off, and employees furloughed. CSU wouldn't let new students enroll at all this semester.

More than 20,000 students will be turned away from community colleges next fall because there won't be enough classes for them, Chancellor Jack Scott said...University students began protesting Sept. 24, as UC and CSU were poised to raise tuition by 32 percent. UC had just raised tuition by 9.3 percent the previous May.
Make no mistake: contrary to what Cheneynomics would suggest, there are real costs to fiscal mismanagement as bad as America's. If state coffers are already this dry after receiving oodles of stimulus money, I shudder to think what will happen when that tap is shut. For the rest of the world, the US remains Exhibit A of how not to run a country. Like the UC system, America's best days appear to be well behind it.