Last week, the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California at Berkeley, released a report that analyzed funding for higher education from a comparative international perspective. According to the report, the United States is an outlier in that it has responded to the current economic recession by sharply cutting public funding for colleges and universities.
The authors of the report note that public colleges and universities in the United States depend heavily on cash-strapped state governments. By contrast, other countries' central governments have made a strong commitment to education. As a result, "most nations have not thus far resorted to uncoordinated cutting of funding for higher education that we generally see in U.S. state systems."
The researchers at Berkeley have pointed out a disconcerting systemic problem. In the United States, education seems among the first on the chopping block when times get tough — it is a sector especially prone to frequent and sizeable cuts.
This trend is as unfortunate as it is illogical. By scaling back funding for education, our country jeopardizes its prospects for a long-term economic recovery and its economic competitiveness in the international community.
Consider what other countries are doing. Most European nations have delayed cutting public university budgets. The report noted that even at this stage of the recession, governments in England, France and the Netherlands have avoided major reductions in funding for higher education. While cuts are anticipated this coming year, the Netherlands has already taken the unique step of establishing a fund for educational institutions to offset future funding shortfalls. And as one now might come to expect, China's spending on higher education has continued to grow.
Signs of the United States' trajectory can be seen right here in Rhode Island. Amidst the state's fiscal crisis, Governor Donald Carcieri '65 in December cut $40 million from Rhode Island's education budget, including $20.5 million in aid to public schools. While we recognize how difficult the recession has been on other sectors within Rhode Island, such a drastic cut — particularly one that disproportionately affects poorer, urban school districts — typifies the view that education funds can be reduced without serious consequences.
This problem is particularly pressing given that federal stimulus funding runs out in 2011. Thus far, this funding has been largely responsible for propping up educational institutions at all levels amidst widespread cuts. While the Obama administration's Race to the Top initiative seeks to make tremendous improvements, our country still needs a long-term plan to secure access to education for future generations.
The recent report is also a call to political action for young people. If we lag at the polls, politicians will continue to neglect our concerns and interests. The upcoming midterms are an opportunity to make our voices heard.
Ultimately, we hope that these findings will bring about a long overdue, national conversation concerning our country's budget priorities. The coming years might very well bring across-the-board reductions in spending on many public goods. As such, policymakers must remain keenly aware of the extreme importance of education, and of the steps other countries are taking to improve their competitiveness into the 21st century.
Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.