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State and Federal Spending for Higher Education Essay

When Richard K. Vetter, in his book Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much, argued that state and federal spending for higher education should be phased out, I was completely taken aback.  I could not associate such an adverse reaction towards a compassionate program with a highly competent professional as a professor at Ohio University.  An array of numerical data may have influenced him to make such a decision, but I think it possible that he might have evaluated the program from a wrong perspective.  It is either that, or he is guilty of indiscretion as a consequence of racial prejudice.  I will put aside whatever biases he might have for the moment, concentrate my efforts in refuting the reasons that he had given, and take the contrary view that state and federal funding for higher education should not be phased out.It encourages low academic standards.  In answer to this claim, let us consider one of the seven basic assumptions proposed by D. Bruce Johnstone[1] as the probable stimuli for the Higher Education Act of 1965, the law which authorized federal aid to students. I am referring specifically to his assumption #5:  “Federal aid to students is given without regard to academic promise or performance.”  He explains that federal funding is based on the financial need of students, not on academic performance, since it is already assumed that students coming from low-income families do not usually do well in examinations.  He asserts that the federal aid program was envisioned, primarily, to encourage secondary school graduates who come from poor families, students who are also more likely to come from the minority groups, to enroll in colleges and universities and pursue post-secondary education.It would appear, therefore, that the moment these target secondary school graduates set foot in the country’s colleges and universities, half of the objective of the program is achieved.  This is because of the findings that most of those who graduate from our secondary schools, especially those who come from poor and minority families, are lured away from higher education by job opportunities and the prospect of helping their families economically.  Once these students are already in colleges and universities, periodic evaluations could be done, weeding out the undesirables as well as the hopeless cases, and retaining only those who have become fully adjusted to college life, obtaining the necessary grade requirements in the process.  Guiding these surviving students towards the completion of their higher education represents the final half of the program.  Expounding further, he asserts that doing away with the federal aid program, or even raising the minimum academic requisites relative thereto, would amount to discrimination against poor and minority families.It negatively affects economic growth.  Here, Johnstone’s assumption #2 seems an appropriate response:  “The costs of higher education are appropriately shared by taxpayers (both state and federal), parents, students, and philanthropists.”  The cost of education includes tuition fees and other school-related expenses, as well as the daily cost of living of each student.  According to Johnstone, under this assumption, the parents are expected to share the cost of their children’s education depending upon their financial capacities. This will be determined during the application process for federal aid.The students, on the other hand, are urged to contribute their fair share and are, in fact, provided with the opportunity through the “College Work-Study Program” which enables them to work for part of their needs, particularly the day-to-day cost of living.  Under this program, the participating institutions receive funds from the Federal government so that they could employ needy students for “12-15 hours per week during school sessions and up to 40 hours a week during vacation period” (AXA Advisors).  These shares contributed by parents and students relieve the federal government of some of the burdens of mass higher education.  It would not be fair, therefore, to claim that federal and state funding of higher education “negatively affects economic growth”.  Johnstone claims that the United States is in fact in a much better situation when compared to the Scandinavian countries where “parents are not expected to contribute to the higher education costs incurred by their children.”  As far as student contribution is concerned, he cited the case of the United Kingdom where “until only recently, students were not expected to contribute.”It significantly increases the costs of higher education.  To this claim, Johnstone counters that a healthy competition among colleges and universities is being generated by making higher education accessible to students from the low-income groups.  It is because the federal support granted to these students mean indirect support for the colleges and universities who welcome them to their facilities.  Here, again, the College Work-Study Program mentioned by AXA Advisors serves as an incentive for colleges and universities to participate in programs funded by the Federal government.  Moreover, I don’t see any reason how federal funding could result to higher tuition fees.  Findings have it that the workings of the market forces have always been behind any increases in the cost of education.The right attitude.  The Higher Education Act of 1965 or the state and federal funding of higher education that it authorizes, is a very well-intentioned piece of legislation which when properly implemented could really benefit the poor and the members of the minority groups.  It only takes a little imagination and some really diligent efforts on the part of the program implementers and participants to turn it into a successful undertaking.  If we are really interested in helping the disadvantaged sectors of our society, this is the legislation and the opportunity to do it.  A case in point is Mercy College in New York.  To ensure success of the program, they provide all sorts of supports including “a pre-freshman summer program, tutoring, [and] personal and academic counseling.”

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