Angry debates over state and national budgets have placed higher education in the political crosshairs. The painful cuts facing our public universities and the public support for students attending independent institutions have been well documented. So have abuses by for-profit colleges and individuals who treat financial aid like welfare, collecting money for degrees they have no intention of earning.

In tough economic times, these problems have led some to call for wholesale cuts to federal and state grants and programs that enable hundreds of thousands of students from families with limited means to attend college. Clearly these abuses must be stopped and the system made more accountable. But simply slashing funds will only keep the hardworking majority of students—many the first in their families to attend college—from earning degrees that lead to better jobs, more productive lives and increased value as taxpayers. College degrees benefit more than just the graduates.

Job training is not enough. Several years ago, an INTEL executive told a group of us (higher education leaders) that 90 percent of the company’s revenues the previous year came from products that hadn’t existed 18 months earlier. She argued that a vibrant economy needs more graduates in science, technology, engineering and math to strengthen research and promote innovation. Healthy communities require a critical mass of people with general knowledge, technical skills, business acumen and a spirit of entrepreneurship.

Unfortunately, many states are moving in the wrong direction in defunding higher education. A study by the Public Policy Institute of California found that the state will be short one million college-educated workers by 2025. In the year 2000, California ranked fourth in terms of college-going rates. That rate is plummeting. Once the crown jewel of American higher education, California has gutted its funding and seen its college completion numbers collapse.

A 2012 study by the State Higher Education Executive Officers association found that between 2007 and 2012, the number of students (fulltime equivalents) had increased by an average of 15.6% across the nation. At the same time, state funding for higher education had concurrently been reduced by 7.9%.  California, for example, had cut around 20% of its funding for higher education during that period.

Independent universities are good stewards of our students’ money and the public trust.  State and federal grants to students at independent colleges not only help those who could not afford college graduate in a timely way, they are a bargain for taxpayers.

Sixty percent of independent college students in California graduate in four years, a significantly higher rate than at public institutions.  Meanwhile, the state of California continues to reduce its Cal Grants for students attending independent universities. Cal Grants had been cut from $9,708, to $9,084 this year.  For next year, they will be reduced further to $8,056. This is a fraction of the cost to California taxpayers of sending that same student to a public institution where everything from buildings to salaries is subsidized by the state.

Higher education is a public good, not simply a personal benefit so in tough economic times, we must continue investing in the future of our nation. State programs like the Cal Grant help keep higher Education affordable.  Maintaining these grants can reduce the state’s cost of higher education by enabling students to attend independent colleges and universities where they will graduate more quickly, enter the work force faster and assume their roles as taxpayers sooner.  Strong support for our nation’s independent colleges and universities is in the public interest.


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