Higher education and the public good

dollarsHave public institutions of higher education been good stewards of the taxpayer funding given to them? I assume that most of our readers will answer with a resounding “yes.” Or maybe not.  Recently there has been debate about this question.

I’ve been working in public higher education for a long time. When I started we were viewed as a public good creating multiple benefits for the state of Minnesota. Somewhere along the way that has changed and we now seem to be viewed as a drain on public coffers. How did that come about?

starving-the-beastAn upcoming film is set to tackle this issue. Calling it one of the nation’s most important and least understood fights, Starving the Beast seeks to present the viewpoints of both critics and proponents of public funding for higher education. According to a review in The Atlantic, the film could help leaders in higher education gain a broader context for understanding complex issues around funding and outcomes.

As with most issues, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. I don’t believe higher education is spending wildly on random projects, with faculty that are protected by tenure and therefore doesn’t need to pay attention to the rest of the world. On the other hand, we have a lot of work to do. The recent report by the Minnesota State workforce on financial sustainability highlighted some key concerns.

Maybe part of stewardship is in the perception – it’s not only what we do but how we are seen to be doing it. What do you think?

Dee Anne Bonebright

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