State schools must become engines of economic mobility again: New York State is onto somethingAugust 29, 2017
SOURCE: New York Daily News
By Harold O. Levy
For decades, America’s public flagship universities offered a reasonably priced shot at higher education for millions of bright students in the states where they were brought up. Sadly, those days are waning, as the race for affluent out-of-state students begins to crush the ambitions of students with financial need-and, may soon, deprive our nation of their talents.
Amid ongoing debate about former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett’s hypothesis — that rising student aid spurs rising tuition — one thing is clear: Students willing to pay full freight are a prized commodity for American colleges and universities. State universities generally charge out-of-state students two or three times the tuition paid by their in-state counterparts. So as governors and legislatures cut funding for higher education, state flagships admit growing numbers of affluent out-of-staters to shore up shaky budgets. In the end, there are fewer spots for in-state students – particularly those in need of the most financial aid.
According to UCLA Professor Ozan Jaquette, out-of-state students now represent at least 40% of freshmen enrollment at 24 public flagship state universities. At 11 state flagship universities, out-of-state students actually make up a majority of freshman. The income gap between a state’s population and the students at its top state university gives further reason to question the mission of state flagships. At the University of Michigan, for example, median family income of students now exceeds $150,000 — triple the state’smedian household income.
His report, funded by our foundation, concludes that many state flagships “prioritize rich kids from out of state” who don’t need financial aid. They have become crass moneymaking operations. Their incentives are clear, if troubling: state support for public research universities has been cut by more than 26% in recent years.
Although enwrapped in controversy, Gov. Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarships waive tuition and fees for families making up to $125,000 per year. They provide tuition-free scholarships at the City University and State University of New York. They would both preserve — and expand access — to our system of higher education at a time when economic inertia is incentivizing states to look beyond their borders for students, and revenue.
Public universities were designed to help students from the bottom of the economic ladder climb to the top by providing equal educational opportunity. The land grant colleges established as a result of a law signed by President Lincoln in 1862 have this as an explicit part of their mission.
And yet growing economic inequality, in part, reflects the fact that the educational attainment for many young people is still determined by their parents’ wealth. Although half of Americans from high-income families earn a bachelors degree by age 25, just one in 10 from low-income families earn what higher education author and columnist Ryan Craig has called the sine qua non of today’s labor market. According to a recent Georgetown University study, by 2020 — in just three years — 65%t of job openings will require some education beyond high school, including 35% that will require at least a bachelor’s degree. The study predicts that 5 million jobs could go unfilled because we won’t have enough educated workers.
It is true that Ivy League and other selective schools profess to be in the business of serving low income students, but even their collective efforts hold little potential to address our crisis of economic mobility. Only 626,000 of the 23.6 million undergraduate college students in the nation attended selective private colleges in the 2014-15 academic year, including about 100,000 receiving federal Pell Grants for low-income students. In contrast, about 2.6 million undergraduates attended public flagship universities, including 710,000 Pell Grant recipients.
Against a backdrop of “upcredentialing,” state flagships can play a critical role in making good on the democratic promise of higher education.
Sadly, once venerable engines of social mobility, our public flagship universities may soon become levers for social stratification. This suggests a bleak future of the rich getting richer, the poor losing hope, and a weak economy that leaves America ever more dependent on other nations to provide us with workers and products. We owe young Americans and our nation something better.
Levy is executive director of the Cooke Foundation, which has awarded over $152 million in scholarships to nearly 2,200 high-achieving students from low-income families. The Foundation funded “State University No More: Out-of-State Enrollment and the Growing Exclusion of High-Achieving, Low-Income Students at Public Flagship Universities.”