By Robert A. Vella
The drumbeat of austerity continues. From Europe to America, corporatists and technocrats – who see themselves as political pragmatists – keep insisting there isn’t sufficient funds available to maintain the social progress of the post-World War II era. They keep saying this despite admitting that the neoliberal policies they’ve been supporting for decades have caused the worsening economic inequality which is reducing consumer demand and robbing governments of necessary tax revenues. How is it “pragmatic” for centrist politicians to cut vital social services with one hand while pushing for more neoliberal policies with the other?
Then, they have the nerve to scratch their heads in confusion when the people reject their doublespeak and turn to increasingly extreme political alternatives.
And, no cuts to social services are more devastating than those being directed against public education. Without an educated populace, high-tech jobs cannot be filled, economic conditions deteriorate, the middle class disappears, social unrest increases, civic engagement erodes, and the very practice of democracy fails.
In the U.S., the Democratic Party has long supported a strong public education system. However, their support has been more rhetorical than real in recent years. Take the case of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a pragmatic centrist and establishment politician in the mold of the Clintons and President Obama. From the Campaign for America’s Future – Who Needs To Reach Higher For Higher Education?:
As an article in The New York Times notes, at CCNY’s “handsome Gothic campus, leaking ceilings have turned hallways into obstacle courses of buckets. The bathrooms sometimes run out of toilet paper. The lectures are becoming uncomfortably overcrowded, and course selections are dwindling, because of steep budget cuts.”
The problems at City College are symptomatic of what’s happening to higher education throughout New York, where, according to the Times article, enrollment in the state’s City University system – a collection of 24 urban campuses that includes City College – has climbed by more than 12 percent over the last eight years while funding from the state has dropped by 17 percent, adjusted for inflation.
Under the current austerity imposed by the state, another Times article explains, the CUNY system has had to raise tuition by $300 in each of the last five years and will likely continue to do so for another five years. Tuition hikes come on top of a $280 annual fee, significantly raising the financial challenge to CUNY students, more than half of who report family incomes of under $30,000.
Keep in mind this austerity has been imposed under the gubernatorial administration of Andrew Cuomo – a Democrat undermining the stated goals of a Democratic Party presidential administration. Cuomo’s plan is to reduce state funding to CUNY by $485 million, according to a report in Inside Higher Education.
Why is Cuomo intent on cutting higher education and raising tuition at the very same time government leaders are exhorting young people to take their education beyond higher school?
It’s not just Cuomo. According to a new report, most states are on par with New York or even worse in cutting their commitments to higher education. A review of the report by Hechinger Report explains, “States are collectively investing 17 percent less in their public colleges and universities, or $1,525 less per student, since 2007.”
While funding has been slashed, public colleges have increased published tuition prices by 33 percent since 2007.
Given these circumstances, it’s understandable why college enrollments in the nation are now in decline.