Please pause for this special announcement. We'll be back right after this break.
Colorado's state legislative session just started, and we're looking at over $600 [update: now revised upward to $800 million to $1 billion] million in state budget cuts, the vast majority of which have to come from higher education (since health care mandates, prisons, and K-12 are for various reasons constitutionally untouchable).
We just went through this in the early 2000s, when the University of Colorado took a 38% budget hit over about three years time. Then, because of our state's Orwellian "taxpayer bill of rights" law, and its infamous "ratchet-down" effect on state finances (meaning, after a severe economic hit, state revenue is ratcheted down to a much lower level and is only allowed to grow 6% or less from that level -- and, since tuition counts as "state revenue," tuition raises automatically offset state funding towards higher ed, in a kind of quiet and un-discussed but nonetheless forced privatization of state enterprises), the university remains far below state levels of financing in 2000 (meaning, funding has gone down dramatically while student populations have grown, actually almost doubling at my university), and the state of Colorado remains mired exactly in last place -- 50th -- in per student funding in higher education. As we say here, hope you like those mountains.
Obviously other states have their own versions of this during the current economic crises. Here's the clearest explanation I have seen of how cries for "college affordability" can be a "wolf in sheep's clothing" when they serve as a substitute for an honest discussion of public dis-investment in state higher education. A little excerpt:
The outcry over rising tuition in public colleges has been overblown. Political leaders, faced with declining budget resources, especially in the states, are tempted to point the public toward tuition increases as the root of the affordability problem because it deflects attention from public disinvestment in higher education, which is the real cause of rising tuition. Progressive reformers join the tuition bandwagon because it gives their cause a populist political base, but if history is any guide, the populist assault on rising tuitions will be the enemy of progressive reformers, not their ally.
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.