Debating the future of higher education funding
Editor’s note: This is the first story in a series about the future of higher education.
Faculty from departments across Central Michigan University agree that students are their main focus as higher education faces new challenges.
Orlando Perez, political science professor and department chairman, said increasing cost of higher education will have a negative impact on students from lower income families. He said the financial burden of college will reduce the number of students who can afford a higher education, and increase the amount of debt they will incur to achieve a degree.
Michigan has continuously decreased funding for higher education whenever there is a state budget problem, Perez said. Because higher education takes a big hit in terms of funding, universities have to raise tuition. However, he said some higher education costs are to be expected.
“Higher education is not cheap, and it shouldn’t be cheap,” Perez said. “We’re not Wal-Mart. We’re not trying to deliver a product.”
Rather, Perez said higher education should be cost-effective for students. He said the value of higher education is clear because college graduates earn more than those without degrees.
“The emphasis has to be on quality and the best product possible, and that’s going to cost money,” he said.
While money will certainly be a factor in the future of higher education, Perez said, CMU has made a concerted effort to maintain the quality of its programs.
“Cost will have an effect, but the key to maintaining quality is to think about interests of the students and to have quality faculty,” he said.
The world is changing, and higher education must also change to adapt to new information and technology, Perez said. He said CMU is always thinking about what is best for its students and how to improve the learning process.
“The students that are coming in today have different skills,” he said. “We need to harness that technology and be creative and innovative in the way we deliver our courses.”
Misty Bennett, assistant professor of management, said over time universities have had increased pressure because of less financial support from the state, and universities have had to cut costs and find creative solutions for economic concerns. She said both students and faculty have been affected by cost cutting, but the goal of higher education is still to work toward preparing students for careers.
As an assistant professor in the College of Business Administration, Bennett said she makes connections with area businesses to find out about the latest trends in the workplace. She said students must have up-to-date skills to be competitive in their careers, and it is important for higher education to revamp curriculums to reflect these changes.
“We’re trying to come up with ways to keep our curriculum current and keep our facilities current,” she said.
Bennett said one challenge that faculty face is keeping students involved and interested in the learning process. As higher education moves forward, she said she would like for the College of Business Administration to find more ways to stay high-tech and engaging.
“I think we’re concerned with preparing students for the job market,” she said.
Jason Sarkozi, Spanish fixed-term faculty, said he sees more hybrid and online classes in the future of higher education as students’ needs change. He said one disadvantage to online classes is that students lose a sense of community, but there are benefits for students who work or who cannot be on campus.
“You see more and more online universities popping up,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s for cost or for convenience.”
He said one thing that makes CMU stands out from other universities is the main focus is on the students.
“People really care about their students,” he said. “When we voice our concerns, we voice our concerns about our students.”
Perez said in a perfect world, he would like to see states investing in higher education instead of cutting funds. He said he does not have a clear answer to resolve the issue of debt, but students should not be saddled with thousands of dollars in debt for pursuing an education.
He would also like to see the work of faculty be valued more, by both administration and the public, he said. Many people don’t appreciate how hard-working faculty are, not just in the classroom, but also in class preparation, research and service to the university, he said.
“We don’t get into this business to make money,” Perez said. “We are highly trained professionals who do this for the love of profession, not to get rich.”
Sarkozi said the cost of higher education will affect enrollment, and ideally he would love to see a world where education is free. He said when he studied at a university in Spain, the cost of higher education was much cheaper than in the United States.
“In a more socialist world, education could be free or low cost,” he said.
Sarkozi said he understands that money has to go toward university employees and programs, but he said he doesn’t understand why it has to be so expensive for students, because other countries can make it work.
“Education is one of our basic human rights,” he said. “We have the right have an education just as we have a right to not go into debt once we get sick.”
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