Higher Ed Funding: Taking the First, Painful Step

January 17, 2012

Posted in Higher Ed and Leadership.

Broken Piggy Bank photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/travisseitler/3490966831/Missouri looks to cut funding for higher education by 12.5% next year. On the surface, this seems like it could deal a crushing blow to higher ed institutions (at least, in Missouri). They’re just the latest in a slew of states making similar cuts.

But maybe higher ed needs its funding cut in order to survive. In her book DIY U, Anya Kamenetz describes the economics of higher ed tuition funding. In short, schools raise tuition and governments keep pace by raising funding. She quotes Dewayne Matthews from the Lumina Foundation, who says that “the public has engaged in enablement of these bad behaviors on the part of colleges.”

If you’ve had your budget slashed, you may have heard the terrible and unhelpful advice, “you need to do more with less.” I’ve always disagreed with this and taken a different stance: You need to do less.

Michael Fienen his the mark with his recent imperative, Do Less Better. But it’s not just about our marketing mix – it’s about everything we do. We’re competing for students with expensive amenities and perks (e.g., fitness centers).

So maybe the first step—the painful, ground-breaking, wave-making first step—is to cut higher ed off and force us to focus on the essentials. I doubt it’s the driver behind the Missouri Governor’s budget slashing, but I hope their institutions respond in an innovative way that the rest of us can learn from. Because Missouri certainly won’t be the last state making these cuts.

1 Comment

  1. Andrew Careaga — January 18, 2012

    There’s a lot to absorb here, and I’m probably too close to the issue to comment objectively, since I work at one of the public institutions in Missouri that is the target of these proposed cuts. But I will say that this is hardly the first step toward austerity for public higher education in the Show-Me State. I do believe in focus — overall as well as with marketing and branding, as Fienen discusses. But I also believe in the benefits of public higher education. Unfortunately, I foresee a time, not too far away, when those benefits may no longer exist, and when a college degree will be only for those who can afford it.