Should States Be Pressured Into Investing in Higher Education?

Todd Finkelmeyer recently wrapped up his reporting career at The Capital Times to begin a new position as communications director UW-Madison’s School of Education. PROFS always found his reporting on higher education to be detailed and fair and he contributed much to the conversation on public higher education.

One of Todd’s last articles posed the question of whether or not states could be pressured into increasing their investment in higher education. The University of Minnesota Board of Regents recently approved an undergraduate in-state tuition freeze if the state increases its contribution to the university. A small percentage of the funding increase will also be tied to performance goals, such as improved graduation rates.

Several current and past members of the PROFS Steering Committee were asked weigh in on the subject. Here are a few of their comments:

Bill Tracy, PROFS president: “As the state’s investment in higher education goes down, tuition goes up and it becomes much harder for many middle-income and working-class families to help send their children to college. That turns directly into lost earning power and lost human capital. A person who gets a college degree is going to make a lot more money and bring a lot more to the economy and might even become one of these so-called ‘job creators.’ Statistics strongly indicate that investing in peoples’ education is the best investment we can make in terms of growing the economy.”

Grant Petty, PROFS Steering Committee member: “Fundamentally, what we really need is for the Wisconsin public to come to see the value of public higher education and research as a sound investment in the future of the state, not a drain on resources, and to see much more clearly how rising tuition and declining state support are inextricably linked. And we need that public sentiment to translate into the political will to appropriate more revenue in support of our schools.”

Sara Goldrick-Rab, PROFS Steering Committee member: “In my view, the Wisconsin Legislature would be doing the state’s students and families a great service by helping keep tuition manageable by offering UW System increased state support in exchange for holding tuition flat, and continuing to make serving in-state residents a priority. Furthermore, performance-based incentive funding should be available for campuses that manage to grow/expand enrollment for in-state residents.”

Brad Barham, past PROFS Steering Committee member: “Building a solid base level of state funding is critical to the future of high quality and affordable higher education in the state and especially in UW System campuses that do not have the same potential as UW-Madison to generate alternative revenue streams. And, really, prosperity over the medium- to long-term in Wisconsin hinges on getting this situation turned around. We need innovation, life-long learning, job training, and engaged and informed citizens if we are going to prosper economically and socially. We need it statewide, which means that we need the social compact that the Faculty Senate called for last year.”