Last night on NBC Nightly News, they aired a very disturbing report. It's basically a story and statistics about how the credit crunch and the economy is adversely affecting higher education.
This is happening to colleges across the country. Oral Roberts University will lay off about 100 employees, roughly 10% of their workforce (although part of their problem apparently stems from misuse of funds, and corruption). Harvard announced last week that a research service is projecting a 30% decline in university endowments in the current fiscal year, and that Harvard needs to prepare to absorb that loss and plan for a time of financial restrictions. As stated in the video, Frostburg State in Maryland is experiencing difficulty in paying student financial aid, and California State may not be able to accommodate 10,000 students due to layoffs and increased costs of maintenance and operation.
It is affecting community colleges as well. CC's have always been a great option as a stepping stone to a Bachelor degree, for those students who need to get their grades up a bit, or those who can't afford to go to a university right away. Community college enrollment is up 8%, with many students seeing it as a way to cut costs for a Bachelor degree, and with many members of the workforce entering for retraining. It's only a matter of time before requirements tighten as more and more people try to get into community colleges.
I had never really thought about how the credit crunch might affect higher education, but it makes sense. It becomes pervasive, spreading throughout not just the business sector, but all aspects of our economy. I find this particular incarnation of our troubles disturbing on many levels. At a time when we need to grow more competitive and educated rather than less, it's becoming harder and harder for people to obtain that education. Community college has been a great way to cut the cost of a degree, whether Associate or Bachelor or higher, and it bothers me that it's becoming harder and harder to receive those degrees.
Everything indicates that it's likely that we'll lose even more jobs in the coming year...it's getting harder and harder to find other employment as more jobs are eliminated, and for those who want to retrain and find a new profession, they could have a hard time doing even that. I try not to be bleak or pessimistic, but as someone who believes strongly in higher education, I find it very bothersome that it's becoming farther out of reach rather than more attainable. We need to be going in exactly the opposite direction, and how awful that the current situation might delay or even prevent someone from achieving their goal.
It's bad enough that there is a certain element in our country these days that sees no use for further education, or thinks that anyone who pursues such a goal is "getting above their place." It's vital that we get away from that sort of backwards elitism and understand that a degree is desirable and worthwhile (and becoming increasingly essential). Now add to that the possibility that many more people may not be able to attend college because of staffing cutbacks and credit contraints, and you've got a recipe for disaster.
I hope we see a turnaround soon for many reasons, including people being able to find good employment at a decent wage, but one of the most important reasons (at least to me) is so that anyone who has the desire to further their education can do so. The alternative makes me very sad.