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Is Higher Education a Partisan Issue?

November 20, 2007

There are many in the higher education community who have long felt that the funding of higher education is not a political issue. Traditionally, both liberals and conservatives recognized the importance of a strong investment in the public funding of higher education. However, that common ground has been evaporating in recent years as more and more institutions have seen their priorities on the chopping blocks because of increased pressure on state budgets. The legislative assault on higher education, which is largely the product of the conservative movement, has created a charged political environment around the issue of higher education funding.

Both the Spellings Commission and a recent report from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity highlight this changed environment. The Center for College Affordability and Productivity report claims that "the more states spend on higher education, the lower the growth in personal income per capita in future time periods." The author of the study, Dr. Richard Vedder, is a visiting scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, the same conservative group that is credited with developing President Bush's foreign policy agenda. This group also has long challenged the prevailing scientific view on global climate change.

This recent report has ruffled a few feathers in the higher education community, as evidenced by a discussion on the Chronicle of Higher Education's web site. But, rather than simply generating charged rhetoric, this needs to spur institutions to become more aggressive in defending themselves and developing a grassroots base that will support stronger investments in higher education. For example, the environmental movement was eventually able to turn the tide on AEI's tactics by creating a strong base that loudly supported their efforts. The time of bipartisan agreement on the funding of higher education has passed, and institutions must start leveraging their supporters to make sure their priorities are being funded.

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