Do not cut higher education


By Alex Swanson

Tuesday morning, I rode down to Springfield with some other 60 students from the University to protest against the potential budget cuts in Illinois higher education.

This is the first time in the 160 years of Illinois higher education funding that we don’t have a state budget four months into the fiscal year. Not only is this budget arriving dangerously late, but it has the potential to carry serious repercussions for higher education when it is eventually passed.

To resist this possibility, we, students from public universities all over the state, protested outside the capitol shouting, “Cuts mean us!”

We waited outside the House and Senate General Assemblies to catch legislators on their way in. We pushed our business cards inside the halls hoping to pull representatives out from the Assembly.

When we did have the opportunity to speak with senators or representatives, we reminded them of the essentiality of passing a budget in the near future that prioritizes higher education.

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I’m writing this column now in the hopes of prolonging that advocacy; we, as college students, have a reputation for being politically disengaged, but we cannot continue on in any way that supports that stereotype. We need to start calling our state senators and representatives.

State funding for higher education is an issue that directly affects us, but also indirectly will affect the economy and intellectual culture of the state.

The direct effect of these potential budget cuts would undoubtedly hit those with Monetary Award Program Grants hardest. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign alone, six thousand students use this grant, which is need-based, to fund their education.

Tuesday during the lobby movement, I spoke with numerous students who told me that, should their MAP Grant be revoked due to unsatisfactory funding, they will be forced to quit school. That is unacceptable.

The American education system, including post-secondary education, was designed to be the great societal leveler. Many American early educational theorists, including Thomas Jefferson and Horace Mann, imagined the education system as a key component to a functional democratic society.

We do not, by any measure, have an equitable education system. At the primary and secondary levels, students across the country, and even across the state, do not have uniform resources, standards or opportunities.

The college readiness ratings from high school to high school in Illinois vary wildly. We cannot allow this gap to widen further by decreasing MAP funding.

MAP funds, by nature, most heavily affect students who are from relatively poor economic backgrounds. These are also the students who already, as statistically suggested by their family income, are markedly less likely to attend a well-performing high school, to finish high school and to attain a collegiate degree.

Nationally, low-income high schools — schools with 50 percent or more of its student population on the free or reduced lunch program — have about a 47 to 58 percent college attendance rate, as compared with 61 to 73 percent for high-income schools.

MAP funding is already at a point at which it cannot fund all the students eligible for the grants. We cannot allow that situation to disintegrate any further. Without equal access to education, we cannot hope for equal opportunity to have socioeconomic mobility.

Beyond the six thousand University students who will have to find alternate ways to pay for their education other than MAP funding, cuts to higher education could very well be detrimental to professors and result in cutting various student services.

Any significant cut to higher education funding has the very real potential to affect every student at the University and every citizen of Illinois.

Decreased funding for higher education could very well cause a statewide brain drain in which students and faculty desert the state in search of better-resourced conditions, and no one could blame them.

Education, too often, takes a backseat to other “more pressing” issues. Education is a backup job for too many students. Teaching is an underappreciated and underpaid position. The standards for becoming a teacher are much too low.

I can’t help but wonder when our nation, our state or even my immediate social circle will really begin to understand the immense importance that education as a system and individual teachers hold.

We cannot continue this noxious and ridiculous tendency to devalue education even further by decreasing higher education funding at the state level. There will be dire consequences to that sort of apathetic stance.

Without a quality educational system, we get socioeconomic stagnation, ignorance regarding voting issues, uncompetitive environments and on and on. It would make much more sense to pass a budget that deeply values higher education — and education at every level — instead.

Alex is a senior in LAS.

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