3.23.2009

"Intellectual Infrastructure"

Popular Scienceblogger PZ Myers hits on a growing political attitude problem regarding higher education funding.
"The United States is supposed to take some pride in its educational system — at least, we're accustomed to hearing politicians stand up and brag about how our universities are the envy of the world. It's a lie. We're being steadily eroded away, and all that's holding it up right now is the desperate struggles of the faculty within it. We're at the breaking point, though, where the losses can't be supported much more, and the whole edifice is going to fall apart."

1 comment:

tfigarelle said...

Without a doubt, public higher education receives more lip service than real attention from public officials on both federal and state levels. While the public must demand more action from our elected bodies when funding higher ed, we must also demand more from these institutions in how they manage themselves. For far too long excess in higher education, most notably in the endowment structures of college and university foundations, has created a level of greed that places an emphasis upon reinvestment and wealth, than it does on educational access and quality for students and faculty.

Of the top twenty institutions whose endowment totals are over $1 billion, six are publicly funded, meaning their operational costs are largely reliant upon state funds and tuition, not endowments and tuition, as is the case for most private colleges and universities. Therefore these public institutions tend to have greater flexibility for their endowments to support scholarships or programs, not simply utilities and general operations. Of these six institutions, only one has lost value on their endowments in the past year, an impressive showing given the economic turbulence we’ve experienced in the markets. So while nearly every state in the Union is facing budget deficits as a result of economic declines, some public institutions like the University of Michigan are earning nearly 7% on $7.5 billion. (Nevermind it is the very state of Michigan that has the nation’s highest unemployment, along with one of the highest levels of tuition for a public university.) So, while the people of MI are going broke and losing their jobs, the Wolverines in Ann Arbor are gettin’ rich.

Should the Univ. of Michigan Foundation consider utilizing their $7.5 billion cash cow to pay down the cost of higher education through increased scholarship availability? Perhaps utilize these monies to further fund faculty programs that have taken a hit as a result of decreased state support? Or perhaps even make a second career more possible through higher education for the millions of Michigan workers who have been displaced as a result of layoffs and downsizing. I think this is only right. In fact, as the fundraising arm of Michigan’s flagship university, I would argue it is this foundation’s obligation and duty to invest more in students and faculty, than in their immense balance sheets. Anything otherwise is flat out greed and neglect.

Unfortunately, these large foundations with their multi $1 billion endowments, distribute the smallest percentage of funds on an annual basis. According to insidehighered.com, Institutions with endowments greater than $1 billion had an average spending rate of 4.3 percent, the lowest percentage of any cohort. In contrast, the colleges with the smallest endowments -- $25 million or less -- spent more than any other cohort, with an average rate of 4.8 percent. In a very real sense, rich get richer and the poor get poorer…
While the public must demand more funding for higher education from elected officials, alumni, students, faculty, and staff must also demand more support from the very entities that are charged with the philanthropic advancement of their institutions.