It’s hard to go to college when you can’t afford to.
Nationwide, higher education lost $6 billion in funding last year. At a time when people want to go to college more than ever, it’s becoming more financial improbable for them to do so.
Financial-aid programs are being reduced; tuition is going up. Income is dropping.
This is not a formula for success in any definition of the word — especially in an American sense.
Locally, colleges in Oakland and the greater Bay Area are going to be hoping for the passage of new tax initiatives on the ballot in November 2012 if higher education is going to remain a viable option in the state of California in the near future.
Last night, in the State of the Union address, U.S. President Barack Obama commented on the danger of losing education’s primary reward: a larger separation of the haves and the have-nots in this country, a nation that has always believed a large middle-class segment in society was the key to overall prosperity.
How to pay for a college education is a primary concern for many American and international families. The growing costs of tuition, books, board and other incidental expenses are becoming more than the average family plans for, especially if they have a few children on the doorstep of higher education opportunity.
While the investment is still worth it in the long run, coming up with the capital just isn’t as easy any more for most prospective students. As Nannerl O. Keohane puts it in her book Higher Ground: Ethics and Leadership in the Modern University, “Education is a social good that provides major advantages for everyone, not just those who benefit directly, and our society should take significant responsibility for funding it, through both state and federal resources” (17). For every person who receives an education, the benefit to society as a whole is immeasurable: more education means less crime, disease and poverty – ballooning burdens of the 21st century.
Why wouldn’t any nation want to fund its education system to the best of their ability? We need to do so, and obviously, it’s not just a question of “why?”, but it’s a question of “how?”. The “how?” is a larger problem, of course, but a theoretical exploration of this question yields many ideas already put forth and just waiting to be applied.
In Homer’s The Odyssey, as a punishment from the Greek gods for his devious behavior, Sisyphus was punished: to roll a huge rock up a steep hill, but before reaching the top of the hill, the rock always escaped him, forcing Sisyphus to begin again.
The idea represents the epitome of vain labor, and this is the connection to higher education funding challenges. But it’s a dated metaphor – higher education can conquer these challenges by combining vision, leadership and effort. And unlike Sisyphus, higher education doesn’t have to begin again.
The U.S. has a President right now who wants to make things work: all he needs is the backing of the majority of the voters, the exact people who are suffering the most right now by the cuts to higher-education funding and the affordability of their American dreams.