"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, November 03, 2006

Spellings, the Poster Mom for Republican Hypocrisy

While parading around the country handing out millions in an attempt to buy teacher votes just prior to the election, Spellings is always quick to complain about the high cost of a college education. She never mentions the receding role of federal Pell Grants in paying for a college education for poor students, and she never mentions the starving of state universities by conservative state legislatures or one that are just broke. Here is an excellent piece that puts some of these issues in perspective:

A few days ago, when news hit that the cost of receiving a college education in this country is (surprise!) abusing the pocketbooks of thousands of students across the country, U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings mentioned her belief that states and individual institutions ought to be doing more to help low-income students attend college.

Talk about easier said than done.

Spellings fails to appreciate that the country's states and "institutions" are already struggling to do as much as they can to help put our citizenry through college — which clearly isn't enough.

How bad has it gotten?

In Little Rock ... University of Arkansas Chancellor John A. White literally got down on his knees and begged the state's Legislative Council for financial help. Anyone who knows John White knows that's a heck of a development, and perhaps most reflective of how higher education in Arkansas has continuously been shortchanged by our state lawmakers.

While it's true that UA is receiving $110 million in the current fiscal year, it's also the case that it deserves an extra $37 million for fiscal 2008 — at least if the recently adopted higher education funding formula for state colleges and universities is at all relevant.

White spoke the same words he always does when the subject concerns higher education — but can you really argue with anything he's saying on this matter? He told General Assembly members extra dollars would help make Arkansas compete with neighboring states; that it would help make the state globally competitive. White said that young people need a four-year college education in order to succeed.

He'll get no argument from us. We can't stress enough how important it is that states and universities provide assistance to the financially struggling college student however and whenever possible, as it's becoming increasingly clear that they'll get no such added assistance from Washington — at least not with a $300 billion war going on.

How bad are things for today's college students?

(Last) week it was revealed that the average cost of attending public four-year universities nationwide, when adjusted for inflation, has increased by a whopping 35 percent in the past five years, the highest such increase in three decades. Maybe worse is a finding that reports student aid is more often failing to keep up with the rising price of going to school.

Tuition at UA is currently $5,830 per year, almost exactly the national average. We say currently since the cost is practically guaranteed to increase, and then do so again and again. And keep in mind that we're not talking about schools like Harvard or Stanford; we're pointing to the Fayetteville campus and the other places where a majority of Americans receive their college degrees.

Just for the record, tuition and fees at public universities during the 2001-02 academic year totaled $3,766. Maybe the first place students ought to look is Uncle Sam, even though Spellings says the federal government is already doing what it can.

Truth be told, Pell Grants today cover about a third of the costs while attending a public institution; earlier this decade it was 42 percent. It's worth asking: If receiving a degree is fundamentally important in today's United States (which everyone from President Bush on down would argue) why is a figure like this one decreasing, and not increasing? Are we to believe all this wonderful political talk about our people being our best investment when our federal government believes in spending its money elsewhere?

It's all about priorities, folks, and higher education for the next generation of Americans is getting short shrift. Legislators may be right when they say there's only so much money to go around. But they ought to also know that by underfunding public education, they're placing limits on the future of our nation.

Practically everyone who wants a college degree today can get one, but it should be our nation's goal to remove the cost of education as a barrier to its achievement. How many smart, talented Americans won't get their chance to become brilliant simply because they've been priced out of their educational opportunity?

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