By Robert Mann
Remember the widespread outrage on the LSU campus several years ago when Gov. Bobby Jindal and state legislators were slashing state funding to the school? Recall the raucous protests that erupted on college campuses across the state, as Jindal’s budget cuts to higher education triggered faculty layoffs and skyrocketing tuition and fees?
Sure, there was the occasional rally and students wrote letters to the editor. For the most part, however, students and their parents were sanguine in the face of higher tuition costs (some didn’t feel the pain of the increases because of the TOPS program).
Many faculty members were silent, too. Most likely they were fearful that any protest might cost them their jobs. That wasn’t an irrational worry given Jindal’s predilection for firing people who oppose his policies. (Isn’t it interesting how Jindal suddenly embraces free speech when it involves bashing gays or criticizing Common Core?)
So, what do you suppose happened recently when a popular coffee shop just off the LSU campus announced it would close its doors at year’s end because it could not afford to pay the increased rent its property owner demanded?
Why, there was widespread outrage and indignation. The impending closure of Highland Coffees was big news in Baton Rouge and elsewhere. In fact, students and faculty raised such a ruckus that the embarrassed property owner quickly backtracked and said he would try to negotiate a lease agreement to keep the coffee shop open.
So, now, we know where the state stands. You can get away with crippling the state’s flagship university, but don’t dare close a coffee shop.
That’s a bridge too far.
God help us if Highland Coffees laid off half its staff and doubled coffee prices. There might be riots on Chimes Street. (I’d probably join them, as I love that coffee shop and consider it a valuable Baton Rouge institution.)
Meanwhile, however, directly across the street, sits LSU, which has endured deep budget cuts and lost hundreds of faculty members since Jindal began slashing higher education funding. Tuition and fees have shot up. Across the state, it’s now much more expensive to attend college.
To be fair, many states took advantage of the recent recession to slash funding for their colleges and universities, shifting more of the burden to students and their families, keeping many marginal college students off campus entirely and further driving up student debt.
It’s not only Louisiana that has devalued education. We’re just the worst offender in the nation.
As Inside Higher Education reported in January, “In Louisiana . . . state colleges received $1.7 billion five years ago, the budget cycle just before states saw widespread effects of the downturn. In the current budget, the state’s college[s] are operating with $1.1 billion — about a third less money.”
Lest you conclude that Jindal’s cuts to Louisiana higher education were simply the natural consequence of the recession and the inexorable evolution of higher education in the U.S. (and, trust me, there is widespread resignation to this new funding reality, including at the LSU System Office), consider what other countries are doing.
After widespread student protests and a petition signed by 1.35 million voters, chastened German officials announced recently they are reversing course and going back to full government subsidized college tuition for all student who gain admission to a German university.
Germany rejoins those European countries that provide fee tuition to their citizen. Those countries include Austria, Denmark, Finland, and Norway. Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and France charge nominal fees to college students.
Then, there is the special case of South Korea, as reported by the website Think Progess in July:
The [Korean] government formally acknowledged a commitment to education through reforms put in place throughout the second half of the 20th century. Policies instituted in 1969 and 1974 abolished middle school and high school entrance exams, which increased access to school in the lower levels. The 1974 High School Equalization Policy also pursued uniform facilities and instruction through strong regulations and financial assistance across secondary schools to promote equality, primarily by assigning students to schools and taking control over curriculum.
In 1980, the Chun Du Hwan administration introduced the July 30 Education Reform to make higher education more fair and accessible. A popular part of this reform dramatically increased higher education enrollment by eliminating individual entrance exams and stressing the importance of high school achievement in deciding college eligibility. This expanded the number of high school graduates accepted into colleges and universities from 403,000 students in 1980 to over 1.4 million in 1989. Another part of these reforms was to introduce one standardized college entrance exam that, despite its reputation for creating an “examination hell,” is considered a fair and objective measure of achievement. The mid- to late-1990s was also full of higher education reform meant to increase quality and efficiency.