As most of our readers likely know, Governor Tom Corbett released a budget proposal last week that would cut state funding to four state-related universities by about half. Under this proposal, the University of Pittsburgh would receive $80.2 million next year in sharp contrast to the $160.5 million it received this year.
Within hours of this budget proposal becoming public, Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg sent students an email in which he claimed that the budget cuts would not only impose a “severe and unfair burden on our students and their families” but also “undermine economic growth in Pennsylvania.” Nordenberg also made it clear that the University will attempt to orchestrate student protests and a massive lobbying effort to defeat Corbett’s proposed budget.
As a Pitt student, I will not be joining in those manufactured protests nor will I be participating in lobbying activities like Pitt’s yearly “Harrisburg Day” when the University spends money to send busloads of students and administrators to the state capitol to lobby for increased funding. Indeed, as a Pitt student, I think that Corbett is doing the right thing.
As a senior at Pitt, I’ve seen tuition increase each year beyond the rate of inflation even when the University had secured significant state funding. Whatever Corbett chose to do, tuition was going to increase again for Pitt students next year by some five percent.
While I’ve seen tuition increase every year at Pitt, I’ve also seen the quality of education decrease every year. I’ve seen class sizes expand, I’ve witnessed a greater reliance on adjuncts rather than tenured faculty and I’ve encountered professors whose basic factual knowledge of their subject is lacking.
Certainly, I’ve also been lucky enough to have some truly outstanding teachers during my time at Pitt but their talents go consistently unrewarded by a university system that values seniority and publishing over teaching. For this reason, my best teachers are lecturers who are paid less than their tenured, full-professor counterparts who do little teaching themselves.
The root of Pitt’s problem is not that the Commonwealth isn’t providing Pitt with enough taxpayer dollars but that Pitt is no longer an institution dedicated to teaching. Instead, like many institutions of higher education in our country today, Pitt has become, in part, a playground for young people seeking to avoid the real world and real work for four (or five or six) years. Indeed, the amount of money that Pitt spends on concerts, carnivals and golf simulators speaks directly to this point.
This isn’t to say that many Pitt students are not dedicated to learning or are not dedicated to realizing a career that requires extensive education. Many are. That being said, many students who attend Pitt, like many students who attend colleges and universities around the country, do so not because they are pursuing a career but because college has become a societal-mandated four years of socialization and the flood of taxpayer subsidies to higher ed has made it affordable enough that, even if your career goals don’t require a college degree, you might as well go to college anyway.
Not only does societal pressure for every young person to attend college do a disservice to taxpayers who foot the bill for much of the experience, it also does a disservice to millions of young people who incur thousands of dollars in debt to either never finish their degree or graduate with a degree that they will not use. After all, half of all college students never finish their degree and one third of all college students drop out during the first year, U.S. News and World Report reported.
Now, there is nothing wrong with an individual choosing to attend college as a social experience and there is nothing wrong with a University providing entertainment to their student body as long as it is the individual student and the University as an institution that is providing the money for these activities. But the use of taxpayer dollars to encourage college enrollment and to help turn those colleges into bastions of entertainment insulated from the real world and the real job market does a disservice to college students and a disservice to taxpayers.
Corbett’s budget is not perfect but reducing higher ed’s reliance on the state and reducing state subsidies to higher ed is a step in the right direction. Those who have portrayed Corbett’s budget as an assault on higher education fail to recognize that institutions such as Pitt are no longer primarily educational institutions but instead insulated communities dedicated partly to education but also largely to entertainment, socialization and the self-aggrandizement of the institution itself. As a Pitt student, I regard the partial withdrawal of state funding from state-supported universities as an essentially moral action that protects taxpayers and will ultimately benefit young people.