Thursday, November 15, 2012
Earlier this year, Zócalo Public Square asked several higher education policy experts: Will America’s public universities remain competitive with elite private universities in their teaching and research? Several researchers and experts responded (you can view the full discussion here). Among them was Forum Fellow and University of Illinois Assistant Professor, Dr. Jennifer Delaney.
Dr. Delaney’s response:
Both public and private institutions suffered in the last recession, but there is increasingly cause to be concerned about a growing stratification between elite public and private universities.
State support for public higher education tends to be cyclical. However, the length of time to recovery following a cut in state general appropriations has been increasing. Whereas recoveries were swift in the 1980s, they slowed in the 1990s and stagnated in the 2000s. Past public campus leaders could be reasonably assured that state appropriations would eventually be restored; however, today, cuts may be permanent. Going forward, the problem is likely to get worse, since most states face structural budget deficits, and public higher education is one of the largest discretionary–and therefore cuttable–spending areas in most state budgets.
Elite public institutions can generate funds from non-state sources (such as tuition, federal grants, private giving, etc.), and political leaders can make different choices about state investments in public higher education. However, privates are likely to recover fully as endowments rebound, while publics will continue to face challenging futures with regard to state support. As such, there is likely to be increased stratification in wealth between elite publics and privates, which portends disparities in teaching and research quality.
This article was originally published at Zócalo Public Square.