Ohio’s Higher Education

On the 8th, the Akron Beacon Journal published “Ohio flunks higher education.” This makes me sad, being a person who has benefited from higher education, teaches at a community college, and sees first-hand how colleges and universities can concretely improve people’s lives.

I don’t know that Obama’s tuition coverage for community colleges would improve things, or if Sander’s plan to make all higher education free would be helpful. I remember reading a year or so ago that there is a small minority of politicians who have a goal of destroying public higher education by reducing funding, increasing the hours worked by professors, and union breaking. I’m not sure quite what the rationale there is “We have the best educational system in the world, available to some of the poor and middle class. Let’s get rid of that!” You’d think politicians would want to rake in more tax money, and therefore want to increase the tax base (doctors contribute more money in taxes than people working at a dollar store).

Perhaps it’s that very egalitarianism that they object to–people should remain in the class they were born into. Perhaps they don’t think that any taxes should promote the general welfare, even though I think someone wrote that down somewhere. Perhaps there are a few politicians who truly believe the same things as the wackadoodle who ran for some public office a few years ago who wanted no taxes–and was firmly against the police, fire department, schools and libraries and road plowing/maintenance because they were funded with tax dollars. Someone like that would certainly be against funding higher ed. Perhaps it’s the same sort of misguided thinking that makes people believe with all their hearts that public school teachers are living high on the hog because of their “five hour days and paid five month vacations.” I’ll probably cover that line of thinking at some point, but as the daughter of a public school teacher, let me respond with HA!

I think that people should be able to access good higher education without having to burden two generations of their families with crushing debt.

Universities cannot be run like businesses; they are two utterly different things with utterly different goals. In business, the idea is to present goods and services and  get money out of the other end. In education, however, the purpose is to increase critical thinking, knowledge and skills. One puts money in and those things often occur. Mind you, all of that is made more difficult by the folks who think that spreadsheets, data points, and forms are just as important as teaching and reflection.

I might point out here, since I know a LOT about this, that paying adjuncts next to nothing because it makes the bottom line look healthier to kowtow to the business only folks is counter-intuitive. Pay people enough to pay their bills can only result in a net gain in “reaching institutional and individual objectives.”

So what can we do? The state of Ohio can fund universities and colleges at the rates that they used to (funding in almost all states has dropped every year for at least a decade). We also need to fund vocational schools (both in and after the high school level) and apprenticeships when appropriate.

We can also limit the funds at universities devoted to administration. If professors and higher ed aren’t responsible for keeping track of a thousand different things for each student, and other wastes of resources (if there is more than one administrative position devoted solely to completing forms, there are too many forms!), then we don’t need all of those highly paid folks (who really can get jobs doing other things).

A drain on higher ed resources is the proliferation of rec centers, state-of-the-art cafeterias, and other fripperies. I’m not against any of those things, but they certainly don’t need to be the priority. And perhaps we could fund these with contributions from grants and business sponsorship rather than student fees and tuition. “Welcome to the Cool Ranch Doritos climbing wall!”

Another issue are the folks who are not academically oriented who feel like higher ed is a requirement to get a good job–and they aren’t wrong. A high school education is really enough for some jobs. Someone should not need a BA to work at Dollar General (not that they shouldn’t have one–just that it shouldn’t be a requirement).

I have oddles of ideas, but I think I’ll hold onto them until the next time I get fired up.

What do you think? Comment–that way I don’t feel like I’m whinging into the void! 🙂

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