Dear New York Times Editorial Board:
When you write and publish an editorial called "Reigning in College Tuition," feel free to use the phrase "budget cuts" at some point during the piece. Really, just one usage would be fine, especially since it would anchor your editorial board to a small sliver of reality. I do appreciate your use of "declining state support," but that sounds rather euphemistic, like you might be trying to describe "torture" without actually using that word. Let's just describe the reality: like many other elements of our society, Higher Education is fighting a losing ideological battle, especially at the state level. It is under attack by conservative interests and austerity hawks.
Let me give you one example from my home state, Wisconsin. In this past budget cycle, Governor Scott Walker cut over a quarter of a billion dollars from higher education. Let me repeat: a quarter of a billion. I guess that is what your editorial board would identify as "declining state support." Other people might call it an evisceration of support. In Wisconsin, as in many other states, it is hard to say that "state-funded" Universities actually exist--they are more accurately "state supported," given that states often provide less than one quarter of system budgets, with the rest being made up by tuition and fees; basically, we're one more budget massacre from being private schools (then will you tell private schools how they should set prices? Or is that overreaching?). So, I'm curious, why are you so happy that "for the first time, the government would punish colleges that failed to control tuition or that did not provide good value by shifting money to other schools that do a better job"? I simply have to ask--do you really think that Universities with decimated budgets are not providing a good value? Do you really think that Universities who are forced to cut positions, reduce pay and benefits, freeze raises, award no merit pay for merit review, and support faculty who make less than a peanut compared to big-time coaches and administrators are inefficient and wasteful? Should they be held entirely accountable for the actions of austerity-obsessed ideologues?
These are minor suggestions, but here are a few things you might consider including in your editorial next time around:
1. Maybe the federal government should consider getting healthcare costs under control so they don't continue to entirely eat away state budgets. This means serious reform, not the exercise in concessions to corporate interests that we've experienced so far. Medicaid costs are strangling state resources. Still, if you'd like, you could hold Universities accountable for that.
2. Instead of punishing Universities that don't "reign in" tuition, how about we punish states who don't support education? The presence of more state money would allow for reduced tuition, or at least tuition freezes. Okay, I hear you... "but there is no state money!" Interesting. Maybe we should talk about a federal stimulus package that actually works at the state and local levels, rather than handing over billions to companies like AIG. (There is a lot that Universities across the country could to with 182.5 billion dollars.)
3. Should we discuss our Defense budget at all? Would that lend too hysterical of a tone to this letter? Should we discuss supplemental spending bills, or would that push us over the edge?
4. Could you write an editorial about how the time has come to eliminate high-cost college athletics, or at the very least, eliminate athletic scholarships entirely? And please don't give truth to the lie that athletics makes money for schools--athletics makes money for athletic directors, coaches, athletic facilities, and television. I have a feeling that Division I schools threatening to cut football programs might lead to some increased state support. It's just a hunch, really. At the very least, it would allow Universities to focus the entirety of their budgets on their primary mission. (God forbid.) While you're at it, call for the elimination of the practice where coaches' salaries are paid for by private "donations." I think there are other places in the University that could use such donations.
5. Finally, and not to be lost here--enrollments in many institutions are at record highs. Should we speak private-sector, "real-world" language? Let's: If the demand is there we should provide the product and services, not reduce them into glorified vocational programs.
But what do I know? You're right, Universities really need to get themselves under control and "deliver education" like the pizza parlors you'd reduce them to.
Someone who values a society that supports education