Undermining Public Higher Education

Undermining Public Higher Education

by Richard D Wolff


Let’s talk about the serious crisis that effects public higher education in the United States. First let’s be clear what that is. In the United States in the year two thousand thirteen, approximately fifteen million of our citizens attend colleges and universities. Over twelve million out of those fifteen million attend a public college or university. That means that the overwhelming bulk of the highly trained, highly skilled workforce we produce in this country is created by the public sector by public universities sustained by public funds.

The future of the american economy depends as much on the quality and quantity of these well-trained college and university graduates as it depends on anything. Our future as an economy and as a society is in many senses dependent on public higher education.

How strange it is that our current economic crisis which the public education system had nothing to do with producing, is forcing many of the fifty states in our country, almost all of them, to cutback on the support they give to public higher education; to fire teachers, to cut back on programs, to close whole departments or to demand more money out of students and their families at a time when they can least afford it.

We are damaging the most important institution that trains up our work force and that will shape our economy. That’s a response to the current crisis that amounts to shooting yourself in the foot. It means long-term suffering is the solution to a short term suffering and that makes no sense at all. Let’s be real clear that something deep and dangerous is happening here. Because there are other reasons beside the crisis for taking out the problems of our states on the backs of public higher education.

American corporations have been deciding for decades now to move manufacturing jobs across the world and out of the United States. To provide work in China and India, in Asia, Africa and Latin America instead of to Americans. Over recent years, there is now a flood of moving jobs that are not manufacturing, that our supervisory, that are technical and professional. These are the kinds of jobs for which university education is required and American corporations have decided it’s cheaper to hire an engineer,
drafts-person, a technically equipment graduate from a cheaper university system in India then from one here in the United States.

Well if you’re getting your jobs and trained workers outside the country more and more, then business calculates who needs higher education here in the United States for millions. We’re not gonna hire them, we’re going to hire their cheaper counterparts abroad. So what’s beginning to happen is a collapse of the support of the dominant social group in America, “business” for public higher education.

They don’t need it for their profits so we don’t get it for the education of our children.
To allow this situation to continue is to become part of a process that is driving the United States to a lower and lower standard, not only in economic well being but of culture, of education and all the things that make a civilized society.

It is long past due for the people of this country to recognize that so long as what governs business decisions on the bottom line of profits; not only are the jobs disappearing, but the educational system of the United States is being deconstructed.

Only if the people of America became their own boards of directors, if the wealth and the enterprises really were responsive to the needs of the people would this process stop. It is a self-destructive act to undermine public higher education in the name of a crisis when the same economic system “capitalism” is driving both of those crises upon us.


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