Asking the Right Questions
By Ken Andersen
Educators know that asking the right question is essential to
eliciting a useful response from students or helping a committee
use time wisely and derive useful conclusions. Asking the wrong
question(s) can have disastrous effects. Are the Governor and
legislators asking the question, “Can we afford to support
higher education at the levels being requested?” Perhaps
they and Illinois need to ask a different question: Can the state
of Illinois afford not to improve its level of support for higher
The Governor’s emphases in the proposed FY’05 budget
are K-12 education, health care, and public safety. The Governor
has recommended a 5.9% decrease in state support (3% excluding
SURS) for higher education although the publicity stresses that
the “all funds budget” shows an increase due in large
part to tuition increases. Yet, enrollments are at an all time
high. Can the state afford these cuts on top of the last two years
of severe cuts?
Higher education is no longer a luxury. It is not a choice. It
is a necessity. Paul Lingenfelter in a recent presentation to
the IBHE Faculty Advisory Council said, “knowledge and skill
have become the most valuable resources in the world. Most developed
countries are catching or surpassing the United States in degree
attainment, and education has become essential to economic prosperity
and mobility for communities and individuals.” And for individuals,
educational level is tied to such factors as improved health and
quality of life.
If Illinois, indeed the nation, is to remain competitive in the
international economy, a highly educated workforce is a sine qua
non. As Alan Weber put it (USA Today, Jan 26, 2003), “The
only way to have a future is to invent it. It makes little sense
for politicians to bewail the loss of jobs. The real quest is
for the next source of jobs and economic activity.” “We’re
not going to get back the 3 million manufacturing jobs that have
vanished from our economy.” Higher education is part of
the required infrastructure of economic viability in today’s
world, even more so in the future.
Universities are central to the research that produces new ideas
leading to new products, new enterprises, new jobs. A higher education
system that is the envy of the world not only is key to much of
the research enterprise but also produces the individuals that
can build it and build upon it. The two Nobel prizes at the University
of Illinois at Urbana Champaign are one indication of the central
role universities play in generating and disseminating knowledge.
The daily work of educators in the classroom is another.
Educators at public and private institutions alike face daunting
· We are being asked to educate a larger and larger portion
of the population.
· We are being asked through our institutions to help improve
the quality of education provided in our elementary and secondary
· We are being asked to educate a significantly more diverse
student body despite a trend of diminishing constant dollar state
· We are being asked/told to hold down tuition increases
while preparing for continued reduction in state support for higher
education in the future.
· We are being asked to find new ways of ensuring access
to a quality education at significantly less cost.
· We are being asked to avoid creating a sharply differentiated
multiple-tiered system of educational quality within and between
public and private education.
As educators we must respond to these challenges. But to respond
we must have the support required to ensure that our higher education
system does not place our students, our state, our nation at risk
economically or politically or risk surrendering the American
dream of an enhanced quality of life not just for ourselves but
Ultimately Illinois and the nation must address the issue of a
taxation level that does not support the essential shared needs
of the state and country. There will always be waste and graft
and efforts to eliminate them must be ongoing. But eliminating
all waste and graft (defined by any reasonable standard) will
not meet our needs. An increase in the state income tax and a
reduction in the property tax as a means of supporting K-12 education
have long been advocated in Illinois. That shift may depend upon
the courts mandating it by ruling the current financing of public
elementary and secondary schools illegal or unconstitutional.
We may find an upturn in the economy will provide a temporary
but not a permanent solution. We might move to a graduated tax
in Illinois or alter the levels of the graduated national income
tax. We might even consider extending sales taxes beyond goods—a
much less dominant element in contemporary society—to services—a
much more prominent feature of the information/service economy
of the twenty-first century.
Yes, I have come to “understand” that taxes that help
“them” are harmful—not just to the economy and
to me but to “them” as well—while the taxes
that serve my needs are “essential.” But one of the
responsibilities of being educators is to help people understand
the difficulty of defining a “them” in our community
and understanding the breadth of my “needs” in a complex
Further, I remember Hume’s unhappy dictum (freely restated)
that as human beings we underweight the long-term future and overvalue
the short-term present. We and our legislators too rarely give
proper weight to the long term. But one of the responsibilities
of being educators is to value the long term and to demonstrate
the necessity of weighting it more heavily than humans are wont
Have the cuts in support of higher education including state scholarship
support for students significantly and negatively impacted Illinois
higher education? What is your experience in your classroom?
Can the state of Illinois afford not to improve its level of support
for higher education?