John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Thankful for the Access We Once Had

In the continuing spirit of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the access we once had in our country to our greatest universities, made possible by a consensus of public policy to keep these access costs relatively low. Those were the halcyon days; by no means perfect, but infinitely better than what lies ahead.

I refer to the announcement last week that affects us all: the decision by the University of California Board of Regents to raise tuition by 32% for next fall. As The New York Times opined—“A Crown Jewel of Education Struggles…..”

I lived in a state for three decades that could easily dismiss California as another country, as one where things that happened there, surely can’t happen here. But they are and will. California led the way on an enormous orgy of personal, corporate, government debt and dysfunctional government gridlock. California’s system of higher education based on extraordinary innovation and public investment in low cost access and infrastructure, led the way too.

This suggests to me one more way the poor are going to be “whacked” as Tony Soprano would say. We all know who is going to be less able to attend the fabled UC System. And this is going to trickle down to almost all the rest of the states.

So what can we individual educators do? It is my hope that we can still use whatever forces we have for conscience, for advocacy, for equity, to try to shape what policies and practices we may still control to remember the poor, the less fortunate, who equally deserve access to our country’s flagships. I am not ready to give up this “ship” yet, but I am very worried that the Civil Rights movement has finally ended. Without low cost access to the very best public universities in our land, there can be no hope of leveling the playing field.

-John N. Gardner

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