John Baer: Cut college aid? Brilliant, folks

Gov. Corbett's call to cut higher-ed funding has hit Temple University particularly hard.
Gov. Corbett's call to cut higher-ed funding has hit Temple University particularly hard. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: February 13, 2012

SOME MINDSETS milling around higher education are dispositions deserving of dunce caps.

They not only provide for further divide between left and right, leading to more government stagnation. They also summon the pitchfork crowd, anti-academics a la the Know Nothing Party.

You see it nationally and locally.

Take, for example, Gov. Corbett's call to cut higher-ed funding by hundreds of millions of dollars, including a 30 percent cut at Temple University.

This comes after last year proposing a cut of 50 percent.

Although the Legislature ultimately reduced that to 20 percent (which still led to tuition increases), and could act similarly this year, Corbett's direction is clear: less support for schools, more burden on those attending or seeking to attend them.

His two-year plan was 80 percent less. How this paves a path to "the prosperity of tomorrow" to which the governor claims he is leading us is open to speculation.

What's fact, however, is that U.S. Census data shows Pennsylvania dead last in the percentage of college grads (26 percent) in mid-Atlantic states; and nationally, 25 other states do better.

Maybe the thinking is: "Hey, ain't there 50 states? Why spend on book-learnin' when we still got so far to fall?"

Contrast Corbett's efforts with those of Mayor Nutter.

In a city with 17 four-year schools, with two dozen more across the region, Nutter meets regularly with college and university presidents, pushes for higher local-student-acceptance rates, more scholarship money and college summer programs to expose kids to schools. Last week, he launched a "Financing College Campaign" urging more kids to apply for grants and college admission.

"Education is the best poverty-reduction program you can ever come up with," says Nutter. "That's what lowers your crime rate. It leads to employment, self-sufficiency and citizens who are net contributors."

He adds, "The governor obviously believes he's forced to cut at a time we should be investing more."

When I ask how citizens, kids and families should interpret these variant stances and beliefs put forth by different leaders, Nutter says: "It's a confusing message."

It is indeed - and on the national scale as well.

The U.S. ranks 12th among developed nations in percentage of citizens with college degrees, according to the College Board, a New York-based, national nonprofit education-advocacy group.

So President Obama, himself pretty well-educated (Columbia and Harvard Law), wants the country to climb up to first by 2020.

"Higher education can't be a luxury, it's an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford," the president said in the State of Union.

But not everyone thinks all of society benefits by a better-educated citizenry.

Campaigning last month in New Hampshire, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum had this response to the president: "What elitist snobbery out of this man!"

Campaigning in Florida, Santorum went further: "It's no wonder President Obama wants every kid to go to college. The indoctrination that occurs in American universities is one of the keys to the left holding and maintaining power."

I'd note that Santorum holds a bachelor's degree from Penn State University, a master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a law degree from Dickinson Law School, now part of Penn State.

Guess the "indoctrination," at least in his case, didn't work all that well.

I understand that higher-ed costs are too high, and that overall government spending needs to be to cut.

But mindsets that hold that our only option is lopping funding in huge chunks all at once, or contend that expanding learning is somehow snobbery, are mindsets that belong in a corner - capped and facing a wall.

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