Public higher education cannot survive like this

By Gabriel Costello, Columnist

I worry about many things. I worry about the lack of funding for public education. I worry about oligarchy. When I step back, and remove myself from this worry, there is a word present. Not an answer, but perhaps a path forward. The word is sustainability. A word that is prevalent today, but automatically conjures images of the future.

The present state of higher education though, as I see it, is unsustainable. This is, of course, always the case whether we want to admit it or not. Perhaps the first step to a sustainable future is understanding how unstable the present is. The signs are there, both big and small.

The most relevant issue for students is the astronomical rise of college tuition and the debt that now accompanies education for so many young people. At last count, student debt in the United States was north of a trillion dollars. 

Things cannot go on like this if my generation is expected to have any chance of revitalizing the American middle class. The model as it stands benefits many people — just not students. First, student loan companies make money at an astronomical rate. There is no product, nothing is created other than debt. Sallie Mae is the ultimate middleman.

Universities are also at fault. With each tuition increase, the University benefits and students suffer. I understand that for many universities there is little else to be done. The sharp decrease in funding in the University of Illinois system has led the University to grow more and more dependent upon tuition dollars.

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Some of the nation’s most elite private universities, Northwestern University and the University of Chicago among them, now subsidize low-income students’ educations so that they are not forced into debt. While this is an admirable action, it is not a universal solution.

On the opposite end of the spectrum sits Chicago State University. A predominantly black university that unlike its neighbor, the University of Chicago, is a part of the community and not a beacon of unreachable privilege. Chicago State can barely manage to keep the lights on, let alone pay its students’ tuition.

The fact that Chicago State may very well close this year is because of the policy of starvation instituted by Gov. Bruce Rauner. A man whose yearly income far surpasses the total endowment of Chicago State. A man who is able to send his children to some of New England’s most elite universities. A man who insists that privatization is in the interest of the general public. A point that I, and I assume every other student who attends one of Illinois’ public universities, would be happy to correct the governor on.

This starvation of public universities cannot go on forever. There is a sentiment that comes with it. A sentiment that I feel. A sentiment that can be found in the hearts of the young men and women who blocked expressways trying to save Chicago State. A sentiment that can be found with the protesters who welcomed the governor to our campus this past week. It is hard to put into words, the sensation of watching something starve while others enjoy an unbridled feast. It is a sentiment that I cannot summarize.

I understand that this is a liberty I am taking. University closings are not the same as people starving to death, but the sentiment is recognizable. The anger that the governor, and those who share his aims, are cultivating will not simply be stifled or disappear into the ether. This cannot be sustained.

Gabriel is a sophomore in LAS.

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