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Politics and the Funding of Higher Education
Nicholas Johnson Comments on
"Talk of Iowa"
Iowa City, Iowa
With host Dennis Reese, and guest Peverill Squire

October 27, 2003

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Dennis Reese [DR]:  The tuition increase was limited this year to 8.3%, the first year we havenít had a double digit increase now for quite awhile.  At the same time, that is going to put some hardships on the University.  They are losing a lot of money by not having another really big increase, and then weíve got this across the board cut affecting all state agencies.  I know at the University a lot of faculty searches were immediately put on hold or cancelled.  A lot of classes will be cancelled next year because of cutting back on faculty. So itís a difficult situation, isnít it?

Peverill Squire [PS]:  It is a very difficult situation and the universities have been able. to this point in time, absorb some of these cuts.  Theyíve been painful but they havenít sort of really hit the product significantly to this point.  But, I think thatís about to change.  This last set of cuts is coming at a point where the University is going to have very significant difficulty in figuring out ways of cutting things that wonít impact the education that they are able to offer undergraduates and graduates.  So, the state is going to have to sit back and think seriously about how much support they are going to be able to give the three universities and then give the universities the freedom they need to generate the revenues that are required to sustain what is really three pretty good universities for a state the size of Iowa.  Iowans should be pleased that they are able to give their students a set of choices of going to pretty good universities which are still reasonably priced given some of the competition.

Letís go to Nick in Iowa City.  Nick, welcome to "Talk of Iowa."

Nicholas Johnson [NJ]: Thank you.

I think we need to consider these issues a little more broadly than merely "How we can shuffle inadequate revenue around to the universities?"

I donít know how long ago it was that we decided to expand public education from eighth grade on through high school, but I think it really is time to think in terms of public funding of higher education by the federal government.

In fact, there is one presidential candidate who's proposing that. Dennis Kucinich is talking about funding it by means of a very modest decrease in defense spending and repeal of the tax breaks for the very wealthy.

This is something we did after World War II with the G.I. Bill and it produced enormous economic returns and world competitiveness for our nation.  Itís something the state of California did for many years, and indeed most states did with at least radically reduced and very heavily subsidized higher education.

What weíre up against, I believe, is an effort by Bush and his cronies to essentially do away with government. As one of their spokepersons has said, "I donít want to do with government entirely, I just want to make it small enough that I can drown it in the bathtub."  Itís a real diabolical effort to do away with social programs generally, by running wars without paying for them,  and transferring money to the rich, while you are simultaneously building up the largest deficit in the nationís history. The consequence is that the alternative left to legislators is to either totally slash social programs or raise taxes.

The way in which we talk about public finance in this country is such that itís virtually impossible to get the media to do an honest job of talking about taxation.  But as somebody pointed out recently, if we would even put our taxes at half the rate that they have in Canada -- oh, itís Paul Krugman -- we would essentially eliminate our deficit and be able to reinstall our social programs.

In short, rather than talking about how we can take inadequate state funding in total and shift more of it into the three state universities, I think we need to talk more generally about a fairer and more adequate taxation system in general, specifically with regard to higher education, free public education from age three through college, which is what Dennis Kucinich is proposing.

DR:  So, we have a Kucinich backer here, right Nick?

NJ: Well, Kucinich backer or not, the point is that Kucinich is raising a lot of issues that need to be discussed by our nation Ė cutting defense spending, single-payer health coverage, this proposal to provide public education through college.  These issues need to be discussed regardless of what you think of Kucinich as a candidate.

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