New Orleans For many of the blamers and “bootstrappers” who like to lay the growing income and inequality divide on the poor themselves rather than federal and state tax and budget policy, the solution is invariably, “why don’t they go to school.” The answer is increasingly that crippled public schools are leaving lower income students unprepared and rising cost of public universities as well as outlandish costs of private colleges are increasing the divide and making the walls permanent. All of which made a column in The Advocate by Koran Addo on the “dilemma” in higher education funding in Louisiana send me to the original study by Demos, the well known public policy institute, called “College Funding in Context.”
Nothing they had to say about Louisiana was surprising or encouraging, but as interestingly were some of the findings that emerged looking widely at the way funding is determined. The common theme that was unavoidable was that the economy itself has strapped funding. Louisiana has lost more than $25,000,000 over four years, but we’re not alone. Over and over, states have been driven to raise costs and reduce support to higher education. If this is the lifeline for low-and-moderate income families, then someone on the mother ship is pulling up the rope before folks can get out of the deep water.
To observations jumped up at me in a more than usually depressing manner because it augured so poorly for the future. In one case Demos found that aging population in the states is bad news for the young:
“…for every 10 percentage point increase in the proportion of a state’s population that is 65 or older, there is an almost 7 percent reduction in FTE state appropriations for higher education.”
In the other instance Demos found that
“…for every 10 percentage point increase in presidential voter participation over the past 20 years, there is a 1.5 percent decrease in FTE state appropriations.”
Of course older citizens also vote more than younger, and wealthier citizens vote more than poor citizens, which makes it look like nothing but bad news for anyone who wants to pretend that education is the answer. It’s not the answer, because it seems that it is answering the wrong question. In the kindest case indifference and multiple recessions are forcing older citizens to look after themselves. In a less charitable case the big “me” means to heck with the rest of your neighbors.
Either way, if the question is, “how do we reduce inequality,” education is less and less the answer as it gets pushed farther and farther away from the grasp of the less affluent.
Meritocracy means nothing next to money.