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Education's impact on economic competitiveness : hearing before the Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities of the Committee on Labor and Human Resources, United States Senate, One Hundred Fourth Congress, first session ... February 2, 1995 online

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children, even if those children have the ability to succeed in high-
er education.

T. Rowe Price recently estimated that a parent of a newborn
baby today will have to invest more than $450 a month in high-
yield stocks for the next 18 years, and then maybe they can send
a child to a private college. Families cannot afford that.

It strikes essentially at what you and I know as the American
dream, because ever since the GI bill, we have sort of had a feeling
in this country that if somebody has the ability, and somebody has
the drive, that they ought to be able to get a higher education. And
more and more, instead of being the door of opportunity which



35

somebody can march through, it is becoming sort of a stratifier,
where the kind of college you go to is dependent not on your ability
but on the kind of finances that you can bring to bear.

If this trend continues, Mr. Chairman, I think it could remake
us in a way that is not going to be attractive or certainly is not
in the Nation's best interest.

The future of our work force is being shaped today, and we have
to have a plan to address it. That is why I think your hearings are
so absolutely vital. It is not just an academic issue. At no other
time in history has the possession of knowledge been such a sign
of economic wealth. We are creating wealth with our system of
higher education because wealth is now not what we produce, as
it nas been in the past; it is knowledge, knowledge itself. So we are
creating capital in our universities, and the health and vitality of
our colleges and universities cannot be separated from the vitality
of our economy and the security of the Nation.

Recently, I agreed with my friend Joe Dionne here to tackle some
of these issues and become co-chairman with him of the Commis-
sion on the National Investment in Higher Education. The commis-
sion was formed by the Council for Aid to Education, and we are
concerned that higher education must provide greater access and
better teaching and that we have got to have better-prepared grad-
uates. We want to examine how well the higher education dollar
is being used, and from what source it comes, in order to achieve
these goals, or whether it is being squandered by sometimes very
well-intentioned but maybe unnecessary or misguided programs.
The commission intends to take a critical look at the changes we
must make to ensure that colleges and universities broaden them-
selves to be more in tune with the national needs.

One of our commission's most important concerns is that the pre-
vailing attitude toward higher education in this country, at least
among some public officials, seems to have shifted. I am not sure
that that is for the better, because from the land-grant universities
to the GI bill to the invention of the community college, the Na-
tion's support for higher education has always been seen by people
as an investment in the future.

The polls I have seen, including a very recent one, seem to indi-
cate that the people of the country still view it that way. But more
and more, it seems that higher education is being viewed less as
an investment than as an expense — not a public concern, but
maybe just a private concern. And States which have had excellent
public institutions — States like California and Virginia — seem to
have their backs to the wall, and instead of focusing on how to im-
prove their colleges and universities, are simply looking financially
at ways to cut them back and downsize.

It is the same, frankly, with Federal student aid, which has shift-
ed from grants to loans. The result of that commitment is that in-
creasingly, we are putting the burden not on our generation but on
the next generation. As we shift that burden, we are doing some-
thing fundamental, I think, to the future of the country.

If higher education is looked at as a cost to be cut instead of an
investment and a resource for the future, then it is no surprised
that the first ones to feel the pain are going to be the most vulner-



36

able, the ones for whom higher education was the only hope per-
haps to escape from a situation.

To listen to the kids who sit in my office week after week and
tell me they do not think they can afford to continue higher edu-
cation is very sad. And this view of higher education, if allowed to
continue, I think poses a fundamental threat to an economy that
increasingly in this world is going to be built on knowledge and on
information.

Now, there is a corollary to thinking of higher education as an
investment, and that is the question of how we are investing and
whether or not we as a society are really getting our money's
worth. Our Nation spends $200 billion on higher education, and be-
fore we ask anybody to maintain that support, let alone increase
it, we should ask the hardest question of all — whether we should
be continuing to invest in the status quo, or whether that status
quo has got to change.

Too often, for instance, we measure the State of higher education
by the top 10 percent of our institutions. But the truth is that the
vast majority of our children do not go to these institutions. Most
of the institutions they go to are facing very serious financial and
educational problems. They are caught in declining revenues, rising
demands for services, and while the world class universities can
solve their problems by simply attracting the brightest and the
best, and they have huge endowments, and that is an very fine, but
the majority or vast majority of the institutions our children go to
do not have those luxuries.

So I think perhaps we need to consider if higher education needs
something similar, as Joe mentioned, to the ftindamental restruc-
turing that corporate America has undergone in the last 15 years.
Instead of asking how to find new money to finance a fixed set of
institutions, we must ask how to transform those institutions, how
to make them more efficient and more attractive as a source of
funding; instead of focusing on the number of poor or minority stu-
dents attending universities and colleges, we must ask how we can
help these institutions to provide not only the education for these
students, but a quality education for all students.

I think we need to think hard about the mission of higher edu-
cation and whether it is meeting our Nation's new and expanding
needs. I am all for university research. I have always backed it.
But we are not all research universities. Most places are not. And
research universities should not be our model. So we have got to
look at and reexamine even faculty compensation systems that re-
ward research at the expense of teaching.

A handful of colleges are starting to ask these questions.
Bennington is one of tnem. They have abolished academic depart-
ments and tenure, and set aside 10 percent of each tuition dollar
to finance innovative educational programs. That is a small place,
and their situation is unique, but we are watching it to see what
happens.

Mr. Chairman, it is probably unique for a university president to
come before you and say that higher education needs to be
reinvented — somewhat like G


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Online LibraryArts United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on LaboEducation's impact on economic competitiveness : hearing before the Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities of the Committee on Labor and Human Resources, United States Senate, One Hundred Fourth Congress, first session ... February 2, 1995 → online text (page 6 of 15)