Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Colorado Politics: Higher Education in Crisis

Political polarization is affecting higher education. Higher education institutions have lost respect with the public in recent years, especially among Republicans. Many institutions are also facing a crisis in revenue, including public funds, enrollment and student debt, which has affected the value people ascribe to a four-year degree. Even Colorado’s respected anchor institutions are dealing with a rapidly changing business model and educational marketplace.

In a Colorado Politics article, I examine the politics of the crisis.

Higher education is in political trouble

Higher education is facing turbulent times. It must navigate tight budgets, high prices, enrollment shortfalls and sky-rocketing student debt.

Since the Great Recession, state budgets for public higher education institutions have declined by 16 percent per student, and during the past decade, tuition at four-year colleges and universities nationally is up 35 percent by almost $2,500. In Colorado, the triumvirate of the recession, TABOR limits and competing state budget interests has caused tuition increases of 63 percent since 2008. And, without other recourse, students have made up the difference by going into debt, which has increased by 59 percent since 2000.

Private schools face their own budget demands, leading to dramatic tuition increases and piles of student debt. A single year in a private college can easily cost $40,000, relieved by some grants and student aid, but still requiring loans in most cases.

The financial surge has translated into an enrollment crises. Large percentages of the population are beginning to question the value of a four-year degree. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows only half of the public believes “a four-year degree is worth the cost because people have a better chance to get a good job and earn more money over their lifetime.” And 47 percent said it wasn’t worth it “because people often graduate without specific job skills and with a large amount of debt to pay off.” Among Millennials, 57 percent said it wasn’t worth it. That reflects an increase of 19 points from Millennials who said a degree wasn’t worth the cost just four years ago.

Addressing higher education budget and enrollment problems is compounded by political divisions. Read more...

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