Accueil > Revue de presse > Devolving public universities. Lessons from America - Christopher Newfield, (...)

Devolving public universities. Lessons from America - Christopher Newfield, "Radical Philosophy", n° 169, septembre-octobre 2011

jeudi 20 octobre 2011, par Elie

It is easy enough to be fatalistic about the current funding situation in higher education. US public universities have locked themselves into a model that has led to the slashing of public funding off and on for thirty years and that has been forcing public universities towards an ever-growing dependence on private money. This funding model rests on (though is not limited to) the ‘high tuition/high aid’ paradigm, in which tuition is to be pushed up rapidly – it’s now between $15,000 and $20,000 for in-state students at many leading public universities – with offsets for needy students that come through financial aid, and a vast pool of student loans whose total volume last year surpassed the country’s aggregate credit card debt. [1] Oddly enough, the unsustainability of the overall financial system that became obvious in 2008 has for the moment made that system politically stronger. The same has happened to the American funding model for higher education (AFM). Its clear failure to maintain necessary revenues has only increased its power over the educational mission. In the incumbent model’s weakness lies its strength. In the strength of the criticisms lies their futility. Hence our widespread fatalism.

A broken funding model

I have myself written many such criticisms of the American funding model, and will skip the main arguments and evidence except to point out three features of it. [2] The first is obvious, though with a twist, but the second two are counter-intuitive.

The first is that this model has been shifting public university revenues to a specific kind of private source, for three decades. Voters are often told that the shift means that wealthy donors and research sponsors have picked up a big part of the educational bill, but this is simply not true. The AFM means shifting educational costs from the overall population to students and their families. The model also shifts costs from old to young, and in California from a 70 per cent white voting public to a 70 per cent student-of-colour secondary-school population. It destroys the mutualization principle of social development.

The second effect of the American funding model is that it has damaged American educational attainment. The USA has had a comparative educational advantage over the rest of the wealthy world for about 150 years – first at the high-school level and then in college degrees. Now, for the first time in US history, younger people are less educated than their baby-boomer parents. [3] If you are wondering whether privatization caused this destruction, the answer is yes it did. [4] The private investment process gives the least money to the colleges with the lowest graduation rates, which receive a disproportionately high percentage of low-income and first-generation students. The decades-old failure of the bottom three-quarters of the country’s students (measured by socio-economic status) to improve their educational outcomes has undermined overall advances in attainment. In about twenty years, the funding model has destroyed the USA’s educational advantage (it is now twelfth in BA attainment rates and falling).

The third effect of privatization is that it is wrecking the financial solvency of high-quality public universities. The funding model doesn’t produce stability because the net private revenues never make up for cuts to the public funding lost to cuts. This structural shortfall will result from the British government’s replacement of most of the teaching grant with a scheme of high fees and loans. It has been happening for a long time in California, and based on that state’s experience even a tripling of fees won’t make up for the teaching grant. [5]

A devolutionary cycle

How can this irresponsible budgetary behaviour, this surprisingly common ‘absurd strategy’, which is repeatedly reapplied in the wake of its evident failure to achieve its stated goals, continue year after year ? [6] In my Senate-based experience with senior managers, they regard the current paradigm as dictated by the politico-financial system in which they operate, so ‘realism’ reduces all counterfactuals and failures to the status of ‘anomalies’ in Thomas Kuhn’s sense. This equates to something like Slavoj Žižek’s analysis of the ‘fetishistic logic of disavowal’, which in the case of the AFM translates as ‘I know raising student fees is meaningless, but I do it nonetheless. [7] But we can also offer a simple answer in terms of economic interests that senior managers feel they are obliged to serve : public funding of public universities aims not mainly at the public good of stable funding for today’s young minds or tomorrow’s workforce, but structurally at protecting a subsidy pipeline for economically strategic research and medical services of direct interest to policymakers. [8] That sounds harshly reductive, but the private use of public funds as invisible free money is not unprecedented.

What we have in the United States are millions of non-affluent students paying more to get less while taking on more debt, declining educational outcomes, and financial unsustainability for the public colleges and universities that educate over three-quarters of the USA’s 18–19 million students. Over the page is what the overall results look like – a full blown devolutionary cycle.

Pour lire la suite.

[1Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Letter, ‘50 Best Values in Public Colleges’, MSN-Money, n.d., http:// CutCollegeCosts/50BestValuesInPublicColleges. aspx ; Mary Pilon, ‘Student-Loan Debt Surpasses Credit Cards’, Wall Street Journal, 9 August 2010, student-loan-debt-surpasses-credit-cards/.

[2See, for example, Christopher Newfield, ‘The End of the American Funding Model : What Comes Next ?’, American Literature, September 2010 ; and, for a sustained version, Unmaking the Public University : The Forty Year Assault on the Middle Class, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 2008.

[3Patrick M. Callan, ‘Introduction : International Comparisons Highlight Educational Gaps between Young and Older Americans’, Measuring Up 2006, National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, measuringuphighereducation. org/commentary/introduction. cfm. The most comprehensive analysis of the rise and fall of US educational advantage is Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, The Race between Education and Technology, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 2008.

[4See Newfield, ‘The End of the American Funding Model’.

[5The first public analysis of this information was a UC Academic Senate report : Christopher Newfield et al., Current Budget Trends and the Future of the University of California, December 2006, which led to the first faculty presentation of a budgetary perspective to the UC Board of Regents in May 2007, www.universityofcalifornia. edu/senate/reports/AC.Futures.Report.0107. pdf.

[6Maya Beauvallet, Les Stratégies absurdes : comment faire pire en croyant faire mieux, Seuil, Paris, 2009.

[7’Slavoj Žižek, ‘Fetishism and its Vicissitudes’, in The Plague of Fantasies, Verso, London, 1997.

[8For an establishmentarian example, see the discussions of medical schools in Derek C. Bok, Universities in the Marketplace : The Commercialization of Higher Education, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 2003.