General Question

flo's avatar

What do the critics of publicly funded university say?

Asked by flo (7166 points ) June 1st, 2012

Edit: why are they against it, what (other han health care)would they have be publicly funded instead of university education?

Countries who offer it: Argentina Brazil Denmark Finland Greece Hungary Malta Mauritius Morocco NorwayScotland Sri Lanka Sweden Trinidad and Tobago Barbados Kenya Peru.

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8 Answers

Nullo's avatar

My biggest issue with publicly-funded universities is that it compromises the institution’s self-determination, and jeopardizes its ability to shelter unpopular opinion. Accepting – and eventually depending on – money from a political entity means that there may come a time when you are encouraged to endorse an opinion or else lose that funding. Little danger right now; the unies and the polies are pretty well meshed. But hey, things change.

A secondary concern is that someone will think that “public” means “accessible” and make college a continuation of high school, rendering anything short of an alphabet soup on the sheepskin worth very little indeed.

What would I publicly fund instead? This may sound old-fashioned, but I might fund people’s wallets by just leaving it alone.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Nullo As an employee at a public university—though not a publicly funded university in the sense @flo is asking about, as there are no such things in the US—I must tell you that state funding has never stopped me from saying anything. The state barely cares what we do so long as we don’t ask it for more money. As for accessibility, I’m not sure I understand your point. Having access to a school is in no way a guarantee of it being easy. Moreover, I’ve seen plenty of people at private schools who think that paying for college means they are entitled to a degree regardless of how well or poorly they do in their studies. That attitude comes from bad parenting, not from state funding.

jrpowell's avatar

I’m totally fine with publicly funded higher education if it is for things like nurses and welders.

If you want a poly-sci or art history degree you should be on your own. I don’t want to pay for that shit.

Nullo's avatar

@SavoirFaire I am speaking in generalities, of course, with regards to the first problem. Right now. and indeed, the foreseeable future, our politicians have plenty to keep them occupied. But like I said, things change. Both my parents are career university employees and I remain in contact with the ol’ U; I am aware of the relationship (and usually, the gaping chasm) between funding, tuition, and the budget.

If you would care to re-read Part II, you will see that I am worried about something that a person would do. I’m not saying that it couldn’t happen with a private school, or that it would necessarily happen with a fully-funded one. I feel that the odds of it happening in a fully-funded school are high because of The Disadvantage. Sidney is disadvantaged, so we’ll pay for his school and make sure he passes, too! After all, the diploma is the road to success, right? So he gets his diploma and won’t be disadvantaged any more. Go Sidney!
Their hearts are in the right place, I suppose.

My second concern, stated perhaps more clearly this time, is that some people will conflate financial accessibility with degree accessibility. There’s already some of that – there were people attending my alma mater who could not have cut the mustard on their own academic merit. Functionally illiterate, some of them, and the courses would accommodate them with alarming frequency. It is good that they want to learn, but they call it “higher education” for a reason. The three Rs are the job of the first two levels of public education.

The cause be what it may, but the schools shouldn’t go accommodating that sort of mindset in any case.

Nullo's avatar

That said, I am not wholly opposed to the idea.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Nullo I am less concerned about politicians attempting such things than I am private donors. Indeed, the latter have already attempted to wield their influence over schools both public and private (e.g., when Ralph Engelstad bribed the University of North Dakota into ignoring the growing consensus of its students and staff). Politicians, however, are constantly at odds with one another. The message one wants to hear from a university is quite the opposite of the message that another wants to hear. This is an extra layer of protection from abuse, even if it is far from an absolute safeguard.

As for your second concern, I see no better cure for it than an actual education. Prevent people from being as stupid as they would need to be to make such a conflation and the problem is solved. Furthermore, I again would suggest—as I did the first time—that the problem has nothing to do with the source of funding. I went to a private school for part of my undergraduate career, and I met functionally illiterate people there who were admitted for no other reason than their (parents’) ability to pay. I actually have no problem with them being admitted, but I agree that they should not be accommodated.

What sort of institution is more likely to accommodate them, though? In my experience, a private institution. Because I had to pay for college entirely on my own, I began at a community college. The school had placement exams and rigorously enforced standards for students. I knew someone who had to take remedial mathematics because he was a single point below the passing threshold of the exam. When he appealed, he was denied on the grounds that the passing threshold would have been set lower if being off by only one point was sufficient reason to grant an exception. This seems to me precisely the correct decision and response.

When I later transferred to a private school, there were no placement exams. Bad writers were encouraged to go to the writing center to be tutored by English graduate students, but they were not failed for their inability to write a coherent paper. A few of the departments, including the philosophy department, were a bit more rigorous on this score: inability to write was accommodated only at the 100-level or 200-level (courses which can only count as electives and cannot go towards fulfilling major requirements). The justification was that students at those levels may not have yet fulfilled their writing skills requirements. Even that seems too lenient to me, however, as the writing courses were meant to improve a student’s abilities—not to originate them.

My experience with public schools is that they are much more likely to transfer you to where you need to be. Some of my fellow students at the community college were people who had been students at a state university before doing so poorly that they were advised to attend the community college in order to get their basic skills up to an acceptable level (at which point they would be welcomed back to their former school). The university at which I teach has the same sort of arrangement with the local community college. This is the sort of thing that is possible when you have a system of public schools in place (whether it be in addition to or in place of a set of independent private schools).

In any case, I am glad to hear that you are not wholly opposed to the idea. There is no way of doing anything that cannot possibly be abused, so the mere possibility of abuse should never get in the way of a good idea. That said, it is certainly worth considering possible ways in which a system can be abused so as to be on the lookout for both instances of abuse and new methods of preventing abuse. And for my part, I am in no way opposed to the existence of private schools. I think the two types of institution can coexist, and may even complement one another.

mattbrowne's avatar

These subversive institutions might actually teach stuff that completely ignores ROIs and shareholder value and conduct useless fundamental research, or worse, study fruit flies. I kid you not.

flo's avatar

Thanks you all.

@johnpowell put it simply. I agree. Also there should be at least 2 conditions:
1)They work there (not take off after graduating) for a certain length of time.
2)They don’t go into the family business for example which requires no education.

What do people get degrees in and end up nowhere when it comes to finding jobs?
This must be offered by joker “universities”. I don’t think Philosophy and Art History belong with Ufology etc

Would you list degrees worth nothing much?

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