July 23, 2013
HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: Another complaint about the “defunding” of public higher education. There’s no doubt that states are, in general, contributing a smaller portion of the funding for public universities than they used to. But a lot of that isn’t so much because they’re philistines, as because — like all public funding — higher education funding is based on politics. Back when most states didn’t do much besides funding K-12, roads, law enforcement, maybe a state mental hospital and orphanage, and a state university or two, that didn’t matter as much. But with the explosion of state spending on other programs, and the growth of public employee unions, there’s much more competition for that money than there used to be. And academics are a weak constituency compared to all the much larger and better-organized groups competing for state money. (Ironically, most academics probably favored the creation of those competing budget lines. This was consistent with their political orientation, but unwise from a standpoint of their long-term interests.) So now state legislatures are sending more money elsewhere, and there’s less for higher education, especially since students can always make up the difference with student loans.
Or it may be that, like even wealthy parents, legislators just don’t think the value has kept up with the cost.