“Public” universities are not free, conservative

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Do you want to make a middle class parent laugh at a college age student? Complain about how “your tax money” is paying for their child’s education.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis caused a stir this week by signing HB 233, a bill targeting state public universities “to annually assess intellectual freedom and diversity of viewpoints in certain institutions.” . Describing his state’s higher education institution as “a hotbed of outdated ideology,” DeSantis said, “It’s not worth taxpayers’ money and it’s not something we’re going to support to move on. the front ”.

The methodology of this proposed assessment, an “objective, non-partisan and statistically valid survey”, was not articulated. But the message – as DeSantis says, “You have orthodoxies that are promoted and other views are avoided, if not suppressed. We don’t want that in Florida” – is clear. Our schools, our rules.

This notion that American universities are now, in the words of the Yale graduate Florida governor, “intellectually repressive environments,” is of course a load of BS. This is a fallacious argument from a politically ambitious Republican who graduated in law from Harvard, who now claims a “firmly established view that taxpayer-funded schools, colleges and universities should be places of education – no indoctrination “.

It is an increasingly widespread bet. Last month, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a bill to study how “perceptions about whether free speech and academic freedom are recognized and promoted by the educational institution audience in a way that welcomes the expression of different opinions and ideologies “. And in related news, Republican New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu last week signed Bill 2, which included a provision that would have “banned public schools from certain teachings on systemic oppression and implicit prejudice. “. Ten members of its diversity and inclusion council quickly resigned in protest.

By artfully combining “taxpayer funded” and “indoctrination,” Republicans like DeSantis are using their own outdated ideology. It’s a classic scare tactic, that your hard earned dollars are spent turning your kids into pinkos. But the truth is, just as your parents’ hard-earned money didn’t exactly fund evil performers in the 90s, very little of your money now goes to brainwashing young people.


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To give Florida its due, DeSantis’ 2020-21 Budget boasted of “historic state operating funding for the Florida College System and State University System at $ 1.3 billion and $ 2.7 billion respectively, “no increase in tuition fees and” an increase of $ 18.9 million for historically black Florida Colleges and Universities. “And as a 2018 report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association noted the state’s “substantial increase in public assistance to students.” But reports from the Urban Institute in the same year rank Florida 49th in higher education spending per student.

But America’s investment in its state university system is far from great, even at its best, and it has been for years now. A 2017 report from the Center on Budget and Political Priorities announced the grim news that “overall state funding for two and four-year public colleges was nearly $ 9 billion below its 2008 level, after adjustment for inflation. tuition fees and reduced quality on campuses, as colleges have had to balance their budgets by reducing the number of professors, limiting the supply of courses and, in some cases, closing campuses. “

At the same time as this drop in state funding, costs have increased, very high. As the Atlantic reported three years ago, “For the first time, public colleges and universities in most states have received most of their income from tuition fees rather than government credits.” The revelation couldn’t seem more in keeping with my own experience – the nation went through this rubicon the exact year my firstborn enrolled in one of our state’s universities.

Months before graduation, a representative from the state’s university system brilliantly reassured a room full of nervous teens and parents that they expected every student to graduate on just $ 250. per month of loan repayment. When my daughter was subsequently accepted into the school to which she had applied, she received a financial aid “reward” letter offering her a scholarship of $ 1,500, a bill of $ 25,000 per year and the news. that his parents could ask for more than $ 17,000 each year in loans. So yeah, that’s what taxpayer dollars work hard for, indoctrinating a student can look like. And here’s the nudge of this Atlantic story: “Since 1992, spending per student, measured in inflation-adjusted dollars, has declined by about 8% at public colleges and universities (even after spending recovery after the states trough in 2012) In turn, tuition revenue per student rose 96%.

This notion that the public university system is some kind of a giveaway from the government, a useful Plan B for the masses who cannot afford the even more outrageous tuition fees of private universities, is quite absurd. “Public” is not “free”, not at the higher education level, not in America. UC Berkeley currently costs $ 36,500 per year for residents of the state. The State of Florida is a relative bargain at $ 21,500. And what’s really pitiful about all of this is that the majority of Americans – 63% – are in favor of a free public university system. We actually want our hard-earned taxes to go to our own higher education and that of our children. But cynics like DeSantis don’t want an educated and critical population. Not when they can claim to be defending “intellectual diversity” while chilling opposing views. It’s a smart strategy. And it costs us all a lot to live with it.


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