Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Knowledge is Good

The state college and university system is confronted with mounting challenges as state and federal funding sources continue to trim budget allocations to these vital institutions. State funded college education is a critical social service and support institution that provides higher education opportunities to our lower and middle class citizens. The availability of affordable and accessible public education is critical to maintain an efficiently functioning democratic society. Education offers economically disadvantaged people the hope of social advancement, cultural assimilation and a chance to realize the greater aspirations of America’s promise.

As state funding for higher education decreases, consumers will have to pay more. Colleges will need to scale back offerings and will be required to become more of a market driven enterprise. They will also need to rely more on the largess of alumni and corporate support to remain economically viable.

Cutting state colleges loose to navigate the ebbs and flows of the market economy threatens institutional independence and moves state education services one step closer to privatization. On the positive side this will encourage and inform institutional development and program initiatives that address the needs of the diverse communities’ state colleges serve. This will tend to temper the “ivory tower” criticism of academic institutions; but they must not lose sight of state college’s principal mission to enlighten citizens, serve cultural needs, enhance economic advancement potential and advance the political liberties of citizens.

State colleges are not vocational schools. Nor are they pools of labor and intellectual capital created to support these requirements of capitalist enterprises. As state colleges become more dependent on private sources of funding, it risks that its institutional culture will assume characteristics and political biases to support and advance the interests of its funding sources. This is another dangerous example of how privatization is assuming control of functions previously considered the domain of the state. The privatization of certain military functions, administration of elections and leasing highway toll road administration to private interests signals the growing pervasiveness state capitalism and commercial control over social and governmental institutions.

A free society requires educational institutions to be free from the control of special interests. Partnerships between corporations and public education institutions are critical to the success and growth of both parties. Academic freedom and the protection of the marketplace of ideas must never be compromised for the want of funding and must be guarded at all costs.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” Wendell Phillips, the abolitionist wrote. Extra vigilance is required to assure that state education continues to be well funded and that the source of funds does not inhibit academic freedom and the ultimate liberty and freedom of expression of our citizens.

The challenge to maintain a standard of excellence, secure funding, maintain costs and create brand differentiation of the state college curriculum and service offering are keys to its survival. Like all market driven enterprises, state colleges need to create and market a unique value proposition. State colleges must balance course curriculum, services and institutional experience to equally serve its social constituents and commercial interests of its funding sources.

The experience of “No Child Left Behind” is a good example of a well intentioned policy that has harmed the primary education experience. NCLB’s places an emphasis on student’s ability to pass standardized tests. Test results are used as a metric to score the schools effectiveness and as a yardstick to reward good performance with additional funding. This program compromises the schools core education mission of instilling a love of learning to better prepare students to be productive members of society. NCLB more closely resembles a grant application process for capital funding that places the protection of the institution ahead of its mission to teach students.

Democracy requires citizens to possess an ability to question, reason and understand how dissimilar issues, events and disciplines intersect and connect in an increasingly complex world. State funded colleges are communities where these types of skills can be developed, nurtured and shared equally and dispersed widely to all members of the society.

That is what the original Lyceum was all about.

We close with a fight song from one of our great public universities, Hail to the Victors!

Risk: public education, civil liberties, informed electorate, participatory democracy, institutional bias, reputation risk, market risk

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June 25, 2008 - Posted by | education, government, pop, private equity, taxation | , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Well written essay and right on the money. Colleges have already begun creative partnering with community entities, from the perspectives of service learning for students, work experience for students, and future employees for the cooperating agencies. Secondary schools can also do more to blur the borders of high school and societal responsibility. Unless young people can perceive the worth of education, I fear we as a society will continue in an academic decline.

    Comment by Lisa | October 10, 2009


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