Challenges for our higher education

The University of Wisconsin is well known for its sports teams and tonight plays against Duke University for the national NCAA basketball title. Wisconsin is also known for its academic excellence. Such did not stop Republican Governor Scott Walker (a presidential wannabe) from making national headlines in February when his proposed state budget included sharp reductions in funding and redefined the mission of the University of Wisconsin as “to develop human resources to meet the State’s workforce needs.” Following much protest he retracted the mission statement. How about a better mission such as “The arts and sciences prepare students for a lifetime of success by developing inventive employees and thoughtful citizens who are vital to a vibrant culture and democracy.”

In our governor’s proposed 2016 budget there is the claim, “Among Governor Christie’s highest priorities has been strengthening New Jersey’s higher education community.” Nonetheless his current budget reduces the operating expenses of our senior public colleges and universities. Such represents just one example of where his budget is lacking.  

The legislature has a proposed resolution (ACR220) which “encourages four-year public and 12 independent institutions of higher education to offer baccalaureate degree programs that cost no more than $10,000 in tuition and fees.” For such an aspiration to become a reality, the legislature would have to increase higher education operating expenses not reduce them, and the institutions would have to rethink their business plan.

The 2010 Report of the Governor’s Task Force on Higher Education chaired by Tom Kean Sr. said, “The State must provide the resources for students who have the intellectual ability to go to college but cannot afford to attend. Institutions must be accountable for successfully fulfilling their distinctive missions. New Jersey’s economic development depends on their success.” We have a long way to go to meet these challenges. The process includes more appreciation for the broader mission of higher education, the need for additional financial student aid, a higher investment on the part of the state, and a better business plan from individual institutions.  

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