10 Questions State Legislators Should Ask About Higher Education

ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) is a small group of legislators, which more than 30 years ago, joined together with the common goal of creating a nonpartisan association for conservative state lawmakers with similar governmental beliefs. The core of their belief system was that “government closest to the people was fundamentally more effective, more just, and a better guarantor of freedom than the distant, bloated federal government in Washington, D.C.” Some of the early contributors to the organization included Illinios State Rep. Henry Hyde; Lou Barnett, veteran of Reagan’s ’68 campaign; John Engler of Michigan; Terry Branstad of Iowa, and conservative activist Paul Weyrich. Over the last 30 years, ALEC has been working tirelessly to make changes to the policies that are detrimental to our states and the power of the people. Their policies have spanned everything from medical savings accounts and AIDS to frivolous litigation. One of the most important policy topics that they have continually stood up for is the ever changing education regulations. According to ALEC.org, “To date, [ALEC’s] Task Forces have considered, written and approved hundreds of model bills on a wide range of issues, model legislation that will frame the debate today and far into the future. Each year, close to 1,000 bills, based at least in part on ALEC Model Legislation, are introduced in the states. Of these, an average of 20 percent becomes law.”

Recently, ALEC released a new publication titled, 10 Questions State Legislators Should Ask About Higher Education. Aimed at opening the eyes of both the citizens and the legislators, they cover the most important issues facing postsecondary education. The 50-page education examination written by Vicki E. Murray, Ph.D., is an in-depth analysis of what is really imperative for the general public to know and consider. While all the questions she poses and points she makes are valid and worth reading, there were a few that stood out above the rest.

Question #1: How is Higher Education Financed?

While we would love to think that postsecondary schools receive the same focus as K-12, the reality just doesn’t support it. More than half of the education budget is put into the primary and secondary school systems, leaving the colleges and universities with minimal resources. On top of the minimal resources, enrollment in postsecondary education is increasing every year. While enrollment increasing is a positive, the bad news is that it means the already small budget has to be stretched even further. In addition to the small budgets, colleges are losing even more of their money by having to keep classes, as mandated by the government, that are not always up to par. Low enrollment classes are often kept (and money wasted in turn) because they meet a requirement that the government has decided is needed. For a change to happen, “state lawmakers and higher education leaders must therefore work together to maximize every revenue source available to improve institutional efficiency” says Murray.

Question #3: How Accessible is a Higher Education?

Accessibility to college is directly related to financial ability to pay for it. Students in low income neighborhoods are less likely to consider college an option and therefore less likely to strive to get into college. Which is a double edged sword; as if they were to be able to attend college there is a better chance of improving their financial situation down the road. On top of that, many students who can afford to go to college with a little financial aid are still afraid to go; worried about the debt they will be in when they will graduate. Proving that college and finances are tied together is simple, if all you have to worry about is getting in, it is much less stressful (and easier to swallow) than worrying about getting in and how to pay for it. According to Emeritus James Duderstadt, president of the University of Michigan, “when it comes to college access in the United States today, it’s better to be dumb and rich than smart and poor.” True, frustrating, and definitely not the message we should be sending.

Question #8: Are College Students Prepared to Enter the Workforce

So we have gotten the student into and through college (somehow), now what? More and more students are leaving universities unprepared to face real world business. While this is frustrating from a personal standpoint, it is even more fiscally worrisome. In 2006, USA Today reported that the average college graduate leaves with a degree and $19,000 in debt, and that number has been increasing every year. If these students are leaving the university as unprepared, how are they going to be able to pay off that debt? Murray’s article states, “A recent national survey of employers representing a combined workforce of more than two million U.S. employees found that nearly half of the respondents considered new hires with two-year college degrees deficient in English. A full quarter of employers responded that new hires with four-year college degrees are deficient in English”. This means even if jobs are available for these students, the students are not ready to take them on, therefore have no way to begin to support themselves or pay back their debt. The point is we must find a way to make sure that the students are ready when they get that diploma to walk into a real world job.

To read the publication in full, you can visit ALEC.org. For more information, email Jorge Amselle at [email protected].

Kirsten Wright’s Bio

Kirsten Wright is a freelance blogger and graphic designer from Orange County. Her experience spans social media, traditional marketing and writing/editing. Her personal and business blog is https://www.wrightcreativity.com.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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