Why Are America's State Universities Starting to Look More Like the Ivy League?

Barry Lenson

Why Are America's State Universities Starting to Look More Like the Ivy League?

Why Are America's State Universities Starting to Look More Like the Ivy League?“The University of California at Berkeley — birthplace of the free-speech movement, home to nine living Nobel laureates — subsists now in perpetual austerity. Star faculty take mandatory furloughs. Classes grow perceptibly larger each year. Roofs leak; e-mail crashes. One employee mows the entire campus. Wastebaskets are emptied once a week. Some professors lack telephones.”

-          “UC-Berkeley and other ‘public Ivies’ in fiscal peril” by Daniel de Vise, The Washington Post, December 26, 2011 

That quote says a lot about what budget cuts have done to some of America’s most eminent public institutions. Daniel de Vise, the article’s author, goes on to offer some other case studies too . . .

  • Twenty years ago, the University of Virginia had 26 percent of its operating budget paid by the state. Now, it’s down to 7 percent, making UVA’s budget look a lot like a private institution’s.
  • At the University of Michigan, the state’s contribution has dropped from 48 to 17 percent.

Berkeley is also starting to act in ways that make it look more like a private, high-status institution. Tuition has doubled in six years. The university is admitting more out-of-state who are willing to pay higher tuition to earn a Berkeley degree.

The ultimate result will be that more of America’s more elite public institutions (including UC-Berkeley, UCLA, the University of Michigan, and the University North Carolina) will also start to look more like elite private institutions. Granted, they need to change in order to survive. But as a result, they will probably serve fewer in-state, budget-conscious students and their families.

Wait a minute. Aren’t in-state, budget conscious students the very ones that state universities are supposed to serve? It’s just another sign that soaring college costs and shrinking budgets are throwing American higher education into a curious, and troubling, downward cycle.

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