Public for a Reason

Given that many already say state universities fail in their mission to educate students at low cost why not just, well, give up the project altogether? As Christine Vestal at the Pew Center on the States’ Stateline puts it:

Why not change the arrangement and require big-name universities to responsibility for their own financing, leaving more state money to support the other state schools?

So-called privatization proposals have come up in every recession for the last 20 years, and a few states have loosened the reins on their top universities. The result is that a handful of the nation’s top-ranked state universities gradually have become more like private institutions – with less state support, more out-of-state students and tuitions that exceed the average price tag for private colleges, about $26,000 per year.

No state universities have actually turned into private schools yet, though at least one tried. In 2004 Miami University of Ohio apparently stopped offering in-state tuition, but then enrollment declined and the school returned to earlier policies.

The problem with eliminating state funding for state universities (or giving state schools “responsibility for their own financing” in Vestal’ swords) is that it’s not actually a policy that benefits anyone. State schools would lose public money on which they depend to operate; states would lose control over top-tier institutions. There’s no way students would get anything out of privatization other than tuition hikes.

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer