Higher Education System Needs Change Inside and Out

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), December 10, 2007 | Go to article overview

Higher Education System Needs Change Inside and Out


Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Norman Kittel The Register-Guard

Higher education in America is often portrayed by the national media as one of the greatest contributors to America's scientific, economic and cultural strengths. But there are significant problems.

America's top universities are among the best in the world, and attract students from virtually the entire globe. Elite national liberal arts colleges are generally considered to provide excellent education. A significant number of state universities and community colleges also offer high-quality education. Faculty research at many universities and colleges has contributed greatly to America's leadership in a variety of disciplines. The many Nobel and other prizes won by American scholars attest to the quality of much of this research.

With institutions of higher education dispersed throughout the nation, large numbers of students are able to obtain skills, training, credentials and degrees. America's system of higher education offers opportunities to students with a mix of skills, and does not focus only on an elite. Also, the flexible schedules and offerings of many institutions allow students to work and to take courses at night, on weekends and online.

Yet problems have emerged, both nationally and in Oregon. Many states, including Oregon, have experienced severe budget shortfalls in recent years. Legislatures have responded with substantial cuts in state university budgets. Legislatures controlled by political conservatives, as Oregon's was before 2007, tend to favor tax cuts or state expenditures in areas other than higher education. And some states have never funded their state universities well.

To maintain their programs, virtually all state universities and community colleges have been forced to greatly increase tuition and fees. Expenses at private universities and colleges have skyrocketed as well. As costs have risen, higher education has become far less affordable for many students. Substantial numbers of students graduate or leave with considerable debt and are paying off their loans for many years. Reducing student costs is essential. A national grant program to aid students would help appreciatively.

Faculty salaries have been stagnant or have risen slowly at many state universities and community colleges, including those in Oregon. The result is that marketable faculty may leave for better positions at other institutions or private industry. It also may be hard to find qualified applicants in some disciplines. Faculty salaries should be raised. …

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