What does the state get in return for funding its state university? Chris Hayter asks this rhetorically in an editorial he writes for The Pilot , a North Carolina newspaper.

According to Hayter:

For Republicans, larger cuts to higher education are about getting the state’s financial house in order while allowing a regressive sales tax extension to expire. For Democrats, preserving more of the higher education budget fits with their education agenda and helps uphold the ideal of a “free” college education articulated in the N.C. constitution.

The problem is that both of these positions, while understandable, seem not to address the real problem. North Carolina just needs a lot more college graduates, Hayter argues.

In short, North Carolina’s current higher education “business model,” including its institutions, policies and funding mechanisms, may not be capable of meeting the evolving postsecondary education needs of the state. As many other nations and states race ahead, it’s time for leadership in N.C. that asks and specifically answers the question: What are the people of the state getting in return for public funding of higher education?

The state also needs a particular kind of college attendance. What the state needs is to ensure that the residents of the state “have access to increasingly advanced levels of low-cost, quality education that emphasize learning outcomes….”

Good point. It’s also a point that’s true in pretty much all states. Too bad budget negotiations are never going to force that sort of innovation.

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