The “Charter” University?

In the last several decades, America’s state universities have been receiving less money from the state, charging higher tuition, and enrolling increasingly rich students.

Some find this situation catastrophic. “In a country whose ever-increasing stratification cries out for more engines of opportunity,” the Education Trust wrote back in January last year, “these institutions remain engines of inequality.”

Others, however, think that the fact that public universities aren’t public is a problem that can be solved through euphemism. According to an article by David Harrison at Stateline.org:

Now, [Ohio Governor John] Kasich, a Republican in his first year in office, is calling for turning the state’s public universities into “charter universities.” That designation would allow them to operate under fewer state regulations. It’s still unclear what that freedom would look like, but education officials have given the example of exempting state universities from rules requiring multiple contractors on building projects. That’s a regulation that tends to drive up the price of construction on campus.

With states mired in their fourth straight year of budget shortfalls, many university presidents around the county seem willing to make deals like the one in Ohio. In states such as Oregon, Louisiana and Wisconsin, flagship universities are inching away from their traditional patrons in the statehouse, accepting lower levels of state funding in exchange for freedom from state regulations.

This “charter university” thing would almost certainly mean higher tuition for students, which would make an education less accessible for students in the state.

Kasich can call the model a “charter” if he wants but few state regulations, little public money, and high tuition doesn’t really sound that novel. Isn’t this just the description of a private college?

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