The Uncertain Future of American Public Universities
The future of American public universities is under threat as student debt skyrockets.
In "Precipice or Crossroads?," experts in higher education address whether the quality of American public universities can be sustained.
Cover Courtesy SUNY Press
As student costs skyrocket, driven by steep drops in funding, the viability of public higher education is under
threat. In Precipice or Crossroads? (SUNY Press, 2012), top
experts in higher education address a broad range of issues central to the
question of whether the quality of these institutions — and of American life and
democracy — can be sustained. In the following excerpt from the introduction,
Daniel Mark Fogel discusses the past, present and uncertain future of American
This volume poses a question
of pressing importance to the American people. Today, 150 years after the
Morrill Land-grant Act generated the reigning paradigm of public higher
education in the United States — a model combining accessible and inexpensive
undergraduate, graduate, and professional education; research, discovery, and
innovation; a commitment to the practical application of knowledge to address
economic and social challenges; and a mission of service for the public
good — our great public universities are under threat, and some would say they
are facing their hour of maximum peril.
They are among the finest
centers of education and knowledge creation anywhere. Seven of the top twenty
research institutions in the world according to a recent ranking are American
land-grant universities and as such they strongly support, with their private
peers, Fareed Zakaria’s observation that “Higher education is America’s best
industry.” America’s public universities greatly exceed their private peers in
scale and in the importance of their contribution to national prosperity,
competitiveness, and security. They perform more than 60 percent of the
academic research and development in the nation. They educate some 85 percent
of the students who receive bachelor’s degrees at all American research
universities, and 70 percent of all graduate students. They award more than 50
percent of the doctorates granted in the United States in eleven of thirteen
national needs categories — including between 60 to 80 percent of the doctorates
in computer and information sciences, engineering, foreign languages and
linguistics, mathematics and statistics, physical sciences, and security.
Without the expansive capacity they provided after World War II to receive
returning veterans and, later, the children and grandchildren of the veterans’
postwar prosperity and power would have been unthinkable and unattainable.
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