The Misguided #PayMyTuition Challenge

In a sort-of piggy back on the famous ALS Ice Bucket Challenge going on now, many college students are working on a challenge of their own. It’s called the #PayMyTuition challenge. According to a piece at Inside Higher Ed:

Students… have taken to Twitter… [and] challenging various celebrities to help finance their higher education. There are lots of requests to the usual suspects — President Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, etc. Also there have been some notable responses. At Austin Peay State University, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, responded by noting that ROTC does in fact pay tuition. (Of course ROTC requires a much more serious commitment than dumping a bucket of ice on one’s head or tweeting.)Blackboard responded with a contest inviting students to explain how they will use their education to make the world a better place. First place is a $15,000 scholarship.

It doesn’t seem anyone has responded to this by actually, well, paying someone else’s tuition (And Obama, at any rate, could only pay for a few people).

But there’s a better way to do this. As the University of California system’s Janet Napolitano put it in this publican recently:

Public universities and colleges… are the defining institutions for the states they serve. So it is troubling to consider that at some point in the last six years, 41 state legislatures in the United States slashed funding for their public universities and colleges.

JanetNapolitano

Sadly, funding remains constrained for public higher education, despite an economy that slowly grows more robust. Only 14 states have re-invested in higher education at levels equal to or above their pre-recession levels. Last year, 20 states actually cut more funding from their public universities and colleges. UC today enrolls more than 6,000 California resident undergraduates for whom it has never received state dollars.

When states under-invest in public higher education, bad things happen. Tuition goes up. Student debt goes up. And the public begins to think that higher education is a private luxury, not a public necessity.

Public universities educate about 75 percent of all American college students. This is the reason why tuition in American higher education is so high; because we’re not funding public colleges the way we used to.

Funding our nation’s public universities and colleges is a matter of priorities, leadership, and knowing the difference between a cost and an investment. It is a fiscal challenge for some, and a moral challenge for all. These are public goods that work for the public good; they deserve the stewardship that public goods demand, and that the young people of this country deserve. We must not let the American Dream die with the Baby Boomers. We must, instead, preserve the institutions that have made that dream come true… generation after generation.

This might be a better way to go about addressing the college cost problem. Not challenging rich people to pay individual tuition, but challenging state legislators and governors to do their jobs and provide affordable higher education to all Americans.

That would surely matter more than asking Oprah Winfrey to send a check.

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