Why Political Scientists Should Support Free Public Higher Education

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  • Why Political Scientists Should Support Free Public Higher EducationAuthor(s): Preston H. Smith II and Sharon SzymanskiSource: PS: Political Science and Politics, Vol. 36, No. 4 (Oct., 2003), pp. 699-703Published by: American Political Science AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3649264 .Accessed: 15/06/2014 06:32

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    Sharon Szymanski is an economist at the Lobor InstifuS sn N tC. She wrtes educational materials on health coret higher educationt workplace health and safety, and women ond the economy.

    Preston H. Smith 11 teaches urban politics and directs the Communify-Based lea rn ing p rog ram a t M o u n t Holyoke College. He writes about black politics and hovsing and community develop- ment policy. He is a member of the labor Party.

    What's going on in the state of higher edueation should be of

    utmost coneern to politieal seieIltists. In the midst of a sluggish eeonomyE most states are unable tv balanee their budgets while the federal government produces growing budget defieits due to a eombination of inereased defense spending alld a tax eut that mostly benefits affluent Amerieans. Beeause the federal government has provided little relief to hemorrhaging state blldgets and promotes privatization of our basie soeial services, state and loeal governments have been foreed to eutbaek on edueation, health eare, and social programs. Unfortunatelyf those most in need-- the unem- ployed, the elderly, and students- bear the brunt of public seetor budget crises In the midst of this realloca- tion of publie monies! we need to ask ourselves, 4'Is this seenario good for the eountry? Do we as politieal seientists and eitizens think that the federal administrationSs priorities-- bloated defense budgets, upward redistribution of ineome, and parsi-

    . . fl monlous soelas . programs are healthy for our demoeraey?'

    We have the finaneial resourees for public spending when there is the politieal will to eommit those resourees, as eviden&ed by the

    billions of dollars appropriated for relief to New York City the airline industry bailout, and escalating deferlse spending. Privatization and deregulation have not brought us either the quality of services or the eost savings that were advertised Rather than rejectirlg out of halld an inereased role for the federal govern- ment7 we need to determine how our soeiety ean best provlde quality soeial services. The main question is whether the vast majority of people in the U.S. will benefit from the federal government providing the essential goods and serviees that promote freedom and security. One of those essential goods is education and, inereasingly, higher edueation.

    Cutbacks/ Rising Tuition and Privatization

    Higher edueation is an area in whieh the effeets of the reeession are readily apparent, partieularly in publie college and uniYersity systems. As the federal administra- tion ehips away at the nation's soeial serviees system, state budgets are required to eover additional funding for soeial programs and edueation As a result, state governments have been eontributlng from 36 to 45% of publie eollegesS total revenue (t3.S. Department of Edueation 2002). However, as almost every state reels from the effeets of reeession and tax eutso legislatures slash higher- edueation budgets - the largest diseretionary item in most state budgets. Colleges respond with hefty tuition increases redueed finaneial assistanee, and new Ses. These measures put an extra burden on the average family, whose net worth has deelined over the last two years for the first time in half a eentury alld who may be suffering from recent job

    PSOnline www.apsanet.org 699

    Why Political Scientists Should Support

    Free Public Higher Educotion

    Preston H. Smith 11, Mount Holyoke College Sharon Srymanski, The Labor Institute

    Editor's Note "Hyde Park" sessions hove been a regular port of APSA annual meet- ings since 1993, offering open dis- cussions focusing on contemporory policy controversies. The first two sessions addressed humanitorian in- tervention in Bosnia and Somalia and gays in the military. This issue of PS introduces a Hyde Park sec- tion with an essay by Preston H. Smith and Shoron Szymonski on why politicai scientists should support free pubiic higher educotion. The authors' cose for removing financiol con- stroints on access to higher educa- tion hopefully will invite responses from disopproving and approving reoders. It you wish to comment on the Smith and Szymonski article, all or a representotive somple of your comments will be published in a fu- ture issue of PS.

    loss. Increased tuitionv coupled with inadequate financial aidx is a signif- cant problem for millions of familses since most undergraduate studetlts (83%) attend public colleges (The College Board 2002a).

    A&cording to the College Board, over the last decade, public four-year average college tuition and ics increased 40Wo and private four-year tuitioll increased 33% (The College Board 2002a). Most recently, from 2001 to 2003, according to lhe National Center on Public Policy and Higher Educationl tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and univer- sities rose in every state7 over 10% in 16 states . Commuxlity colleges-the safety net and gateway to advallced studies for many also increased charges. Tuition and fees rose in all but two states with 10 states mandat- ing increases of more than 10%. Some community college officials in California estimate an enrollment decline Qf about 20Q,000 students

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  • due to fee (tuition) increases. As one California critic stated, "By the same logic, if we executed more prison inmates, we could reduce state spending on prisons" (National Center 2003).

    Budget cuts and tuition increases also ripple throughout the academic community, resulting in more hiring freezes and early retirement among full-time faculty a combination which increases the growth of poorly paid contingent instructors, over- crowded classrooms, and fewer courses. Also, the widespread effect of budget cuts on all state university systems and the concomitant in- creases in tuition drive some major universities to make their public institutions more private. The trend of selective public universities towards privatization is the response calculated by the Bush administration's agenda to privatize public services (including education) by depleting the Treasury through a huge tax cut for the wea]thy and a massive military buildup. By moving towards tuition deregulation, public colleges violate their mandates to individuals and to society to provide a quality edllcation to all who qualify. State schools have tradition- ally been the ladders to good jobs for students from working and middle class families. Soon, only the wealthi- est witl be able to afford the best public colleges and universities.

    The City University of New York (Ct3NY) provides not only an example of the general social benefits that result from the removal of financial cvnstraint from access to higher education? but also the devastation that resulted once those constraints were inserted and tightened in recent years. Since 60% of CUNY students are in families with incomes under $30,000, the tuition increases will undoubtedly end college careers, and the opportu- nity for more secure, and rewarding jobs and lives for many (Ahevelyn 2003; Arenson 2003a; Glanville 2003; Arenson 2003b) Reporting on the devastating effects of rising tultion, the Congressional Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance reports that by the end of this decade as many as 4.4 million college-qualified high school graduates will be unable to enroll in a four-year college, and 2 million will not go to college at all because they can't afford it (Advisory Committee 2002).

    college is the reeent bureaueratie ehange in the federal needs formula whieh determines how mueh of a family's ineome is really diseretionary and therefore fair game for eovering eoIlege eosts. The formula deereases the amount of state and loeal taxes that families ean deduct, thereby increasing the amox}nt of money the government says families have to pay for eollege. A report by the Congressional Researeh Service states that the new financial formula will reduee Pell Grants by $270 million, disqualify 84,000 students from receiving any Pell grantss and reduee the amount of Pell grants for hundreds of thousands more students. It will also affect all state and university awards and grants (Winter 2003).

    Students at Risk Skyroeketing tuition and relianee on

    interest-earrying loans foree some students to forego eollege altogether, while others drop out or delay graduation beeause they saerifiee the time for their studies in order to work An inadequate financial system that forees students to work long hours affects grades, ehoiee of eourses, grant awards, and their ehanees for graduating. F;ifty-three pereent of low-ineome freshman who work more than 35 hours per week drop out and do not receive a degree. Contrast this with low-ineome freshman who work fewer hours; of those who work one to 14 hours per week, only 20% do not receive a degree (Advisory Committee 2001).

    Loon Debt As a result of an inereasing reli-

    anee on loans, the majority of students (64%) graduate with an average debt of almost $17,000, up significantly from $8,200 in 1989 (King and Bannon 2002). Loan burdens have increased for graduates at all levels of ineome, at both publie and private institutions. Although lower ineome students have a greater total debt burden, the largest pereent- age increase in indebtedness is among higher ineome students (Boushey 2003). Faeed with repaying huge loans, students often reconsider their career plans. Our soeiety suffers if students abandon lower-paying occupations in teaching, social services? and health care in order to seek courses of study that lead to

    Inadequote Finonciol Aid Although there seems to be a lot of it

    ($90 billion), finaneial aid has ehanged its stripes and is illadequate. Increas- ingly, eollege attendanee for all exeept the wealthy has beeome eontingent on qualifieation for interest-earrying student loans Three deeades ago, a finaneial aid system the baekbone being Pell Grants-guaranteed access to public eolleges for primarily low- and moderate-ineome students. Mil- lions of Amerieans earned eollege degrees as a result. In 1975, the maximum Pell grant covered 84% of eosts at a four-year publie eollege. Now, the grant eovers only 42% of eosts at four-year publie eolleges and only 16% of eosts at four-year private eolleges (The College Board 2002b).

    In general, loan-based finaneial aid and a tax eode that favors the lnost privileged have replaeed grant-based finaneial aid. Sueh a shiR devastates lower ineome families. Yet it high- lights the effeets of rising tuition eosts on all ineome levels, partieu- larly higher ineome families who use their greater politieal elout to secure aid programs beneficial to their needs. A decade ago, 50% of student aid was in the form of grants and 47% was in the form of loans (2% was work aid). Today, grants are down to 39% of total aid, loans have in- ereased to 54% and tax eredits are 6Wo (work aid is lCSo) (The College Board 2002b). In 1992, Washington deeided to further help out the wealthier by making unsubsidized loans available to all students, ehanging the defini- tior} of need, and inereasing the loan limits for subsidized loans. Now unsubsidized loans, although the most expensive, aeeount for over half of all federal loan monies and are inereasingly popular sinee they do not require documented finaneial need.

    Similar to unsllbsidized loans in that they are not need based, tax eredits and tax deduetions shift a proportion of total federaI aid monies away from lower-ineome students. Tax eredits and deduetions eannot be used by students from families with ineomes too low to pay taxes. Families who owe little taxes will have the value of their tax credit redueed so that it doesn't exeeed what they owe in taxes. And any grant, sueh as a Pell, may reduce or even eliminate a family's tuition tax credit.

    Further heightening the reliance on interest-bearing loans to pay for

    7oo PS October2003

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  • report by a congressional subcommittee on education estimated that 40% of those who attended college under the Bill would not otherwise have done so; that by 1987 the college attendees paid additional taxes totaling almost $68 billion (in current year dollars) which more than paid for the entire program; and that they increased the nation's output of goods and services by $312 billion (in current year dollars) (Sub- committee on Education 1988). Overall, the program was heralded as one of the greatest pieces of social legislation.

    The G.I. Bill had a broad, lasting effect on our country. Not only did participants realize increased in- comes and an enhanced quality of life, but society was repaid with thousands of engineers, scientists, doctors, nurses, and, overall, a more skilled workforce and educated public. These benefits were passed down through the generations, contributing to a huge expansion in college enroll- ment 21% between 1950 and 1960 and almost 167% between 1960 and 1970. This growth led to expanding existing colleges and building new ones, often in under-served urban and rural areas, thereby reaching new segments of the population. Such growth stimulated employment oppor- tunities ranging from construction to faculty, staff, and support services. Overall, this expansion democratized and deepened the intellectual life and academic parameters of colleges and

    . . .


    Free tuition a...