As government support for higher education shrinks to an all-time low, public university systems round the country are confronted with having to compromise between keeping college reasonable for the largest number of students and providing them with a degree when you compare they can rely on. A number of people are now wondering if by raising tuition in order to retain this degree of excellence, the colleges are betraying their mission of allowing even the most needy of students a road to a college education.
According to John Cumbler writing for The Courier-Journal, this push-and-pull between quality and accessibility happens to be an issue public universities have had to deal with. Although private universities happen to be operating in the usa since the 17th century, when public universities were created in the 19th century, they operated along similar lines — meaning, these were exclusive, expensive and thus open only to the fortunate few who could afford their fees.
Accessible postsecondary education was to be found within the Normal Colleges or the State Land Grant Colleges. The Normal Colleges were initially established to train teachers – the first founded by Horace Mann of Massachusetts in 1836. The Land Grant Colleges left the 1862 Morrill Land-Grant Act which granted each state 30,000 acres of public land for each senator and representative in Congress to endow an agricultural college – leading to the establishment of 69 land-grant colleges.
Cumbler writes that there was always said to be a separation between schools where groundbreaking research took place and where the country’s brightest — and richest — brains looked for an education, and Normal Colleges that served as training grounds for the future professionals in the lower- and middle-class families. Particularly, they were places in which the next generation of farmers came to learn the latest developments in agriculture and animal husbandry.
This type of a bifurcated higher education system remained in place, with some exceptions, until the turn of the century when Robert La Follette of Wisconsin initiated the \”Wisconsin Idea.\” The heart of the Wisconsin Idea ended up being to initiate a graduated tax and pour the additional revenue in to the university, making it a university of excellence which would serve the state by providing both the highest quality education for its citizens, no matter their economic status, by being a center for research and invention which would serve their state.
The next step within the revolution of higher education was the GI Bill. When the veterans of WW2 started returning home in droves, many took advantage of the government grant enter in order to afford a university degree these were previously not able to finance.
For the following 50 years, the us government and the states believed an investment of tax dollars in the public university system to be worthwhile. Yet, as the belief in Big Government gives method to tougher economic realities, Cumbler understands that a retreat to the two-tier system to become inevitable.