Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Resource flows in higher ed -- when wonks attack! 

I missed Sunday's RedStarTribune and this opinion piece by Lori Sturdevant on public money going to higher education. I mentioned last week that a state legislator wants to create a "campus closing commission" to look at whether some of the campuses in the University of Minnesota and MnSCU systems should be closed. There have been some minor changes, but since the merger of the state universities with the community and technical colleges, there have been no big changes in public higher education. Sturdevant thinks state businesses are also interested in this idea.
The business lobby isn't clamoring for campus closings -- not directly, anyway. Too many members of the Chamber of Commerce love having a campus close by. But businesses large and small have thrown in with those who believe that less state money should flow to institutions and more to students, in the form of need-based financial aid. That would create more competition among campuses for students, the thinking goes, which would in turn inspire more efficiency and more responsiveness to market demands.

...Business wants higher education on its side. The current configuration makes the state's colleges and universities perpetual supplicants for tax money, rather than partners with businesses in stimulating and sustaining local economies. Academic enterprises are too beholden to politicians, they say, and not enough to employers and their current and future employees.

Darwin Voltin of the Minneapolis office of accountants McGladrey and Pullen was worth hearing:

"I don't know what our higher education systems' response is to the global economy. There's a lot of Minnesota manufacturing going overseas, and they don't seem concerned. They act like we are still a nation unto ourselves. We have to figure out what we are going to do about that. We need their help."

So it's not like they want government off their backs, these firms. They are instead asking for redirection of state tax dollars to those schools that provide them with stable (and cheap) workers who speak several languages and can work in other countries. Does it trouble them at all that such highly trained workers would probably move out of a state that taxes the shirt off their backs? Or will there be a service requirement that forces those students to stay in-state?