NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Remaking America's Public Universities

March 16, 2011

Public higher education's rapid growth came to a halt two years ago, thanks to shrunken state revenues caused by the recession, says Jay Schalin, the senior researcher and writer at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

  • At first, federal stimulus money and enormous tuition increases -- 34 percent in California and 23 percent in North Carolina -- encouraged business as usual.
  • When reality started to set in, administrators went after the fat, such as excessive administrative staff and unfilled faculty positions.

Members of the new Republican majority represent a new way of looking at higher education spending, and are likely to eschew temporary fixes and will want to bring fundamental change to higher education.

California illustrates the older way of thinking.

  • Facing a projected $26.6 billion budget deficit, Gov. Jerry Brown is pushing hard for $500 million in cuts to the University of California's state subsidy, which equaled $2.91 billion for the 2010-2011 academic year.
  • An 8 percent tuition hike will restore $115 million, but this still means staff furloughs and layoffs, enrollment limits and financial aid reductions.

Elsewhere, the spirit of innovation has come to life.  Some states are considering the partial privatization of certain flagship campuses.  Such schools would replace tax-funded appropriations with higher tuitions and would receive greater autonomy in return.

No matter who is in charge, we are going to see a frenzy of activity, including faculty layoffs and the elimination of programs.  As faculty layoffs mount, an already tough employment market for professors will become dreadful.

But none of these things fundamentally changes the institution of higher education.  By wielding the budget ax strategically, legislators could remake America's university systems to better serve the needs of the nation.

Source: Jay Schalin, "Public Universities in U.S. in Sore Need of a Remake," Investor's Business Daily, March 14, 2011.

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