Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Stop Acting Surprised Over Higher Education Budget Cuts from Tea-Party Associated Governors, It is What They Do

Recently, the media and internet has been blowing up over the higher education [HE] budget cuts proposed by Tea-Party associated governors:  Scott Walker (WI), Bobby Jindal (LA), Doug Ducey (AZ), and Bruce Rauner (IL).  However, these cuts should not be surprising to anyone as these governors ran on platforms clearly indicating they would be balancing budgets without generating additional revenue through increased taxes.  Obviously, sans raising taxes the only action to balance budgets is to cut spending.  Generally, HE is an easy to slash because costs will shift to students who have access to student loans.  Together these governors’ solutions are indicating that public HE is not a social priority.  This blog surveys the four governors and explains why people must stop being “surprised” when a Tea Party governor eviscerates HE revenue.

First, Walker  and Jindal are discussed together because of the perceived motive for their budget cuts, a desire for a 2016 presidential run.  Both have proposed $300 million dollar budget cuts to their respective HE systems.  Walker’s cuts equal to 13% of the Wisconsin system and is dispersed over the course of two years.  In comparison, Jindal’s are far more drastic cutting one-third of LSU system’s revenue in a single year.   Jindal’s attack on Louisiana’s HE system is long standing; since 2008, his policies have resulted in the reduction of $700 million to public HE.  Showing little care or understanding for how his actions affect LSU, when asked about the cost of tuition to attend LSU he stated, “It’s certainly well under $10,000 when you look at fees and housing.”   Actually, it is double.   Jindal’s proposed $300 million cuts are so extreme that even Republicans in his state are standing against him.  Although Jindal is not making friends at home, he does not need them. Like Walker, to fulfill his goals he now needs friends in Iowa.   Unlike Jindal, we do not have a long standing trend to examine the effects of Walker’s proposals.  However, before showing interest in a presidential bid Wisconsin’s system has held national average tuition.   Presumably, Wisconsin should expect this trend to change due to Walker’s newly adopted “Go Big and Go Bold” attitude; which was unveiled during a trip to Iowa.  

While not as extreme as the previous two, Ducey is looking to remove $75 million (10%) from HE in 2016.  Similarly to Louisiana, Arizona has experienced continued decreases in appropriations.  His predecessor Governor Jan Brewer , a Tea Party associate cut HE budgets just as harsh as Louisiana until her exit when she proposed a no-growth budget.  Although new to the governorship, Ducey came out strong as his proposed cuts for 2016 will be one of the largest single cuts for the AZ system.  With another Tea Party governor in office, the public institutions in Arizona should brace for continued declines.

Unlike the other governors in this list, Rauner’s net worth puts him near the billionaire class; therefore, he was less reliant on external funds to create the pathway towards governorship. Of the $65.3 million spent on his campaign 42% ($27.6 million) was self-injected money.   While Rauner may not “owe” external financiers, increased reports are suggesting that Rauner holds deep financial and ideological links to groups associated with the Tea Party, which may not align with the “moderate” platform touted during the election.  Aligning more closely with Tea Party ideology and trends, Rauner recently unleashed a budget proposal that introduces a massive 31% ($387m) cut in HE.  While universities were expecting double digit cuts, 30% was surprising even to university presidents - ISU’s Deitz, “Frankly, I’m in a bit of shock… [A 31% cut] was never talked about anywhere.”    However, in November 2014 it was reported that Rauner was eyeing a 30% cut to higher education; unfortunately people were not paying attention. 

These policies leave higher education vulnerable, so we should expect: (1) higher tuition and fees, (2) students across all SES to take out more student loans, (3) more parent plus loans, and (4) more out-of-state and international student enrollments, and (5) expect more cuts.  Additionally, we must stop acting surprised when Tea Party associated governors enact policies that gut HE as there is evidence that this is their mode of operation. 

Undoubtedly, there is a Tea Party agenda against publicly supported HE.  Knowing the Tea Party agenda to defund most governmental processes associated to the social good, let us not act shocked when the shell game hits HE. It should be expected and institutions need to stop wasting time being “shocked.”  Learn to fight or prepare to be state-based, not state-supported, institutions.   

Daniel A. Collier is a PhD student at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana in the Education Organization and Leadership program. Daniel specializes in Higher Education research where through an evaluative research specialization he focuses on how policies and politics affect higher education.

The Forum on the Future of Public Education strives to bring the best empirical evidence to policymakers and the public. The Forum draws on a network of premier scholars to create, interpret, and disseminate credible information on key questions facing P-20 education.

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