With support for new taxes arguably at an all-time low, states are looking for ways to cut costs. In the sights of the cost cutters are state contributions to public universities. In recent days this discussion has focused on the conflict between accessibility and quality. Public universities are raising tuition to make up for declining state support and increasingly pricing themselves out of the reach of larger and larger numbers of students. Some have suggested the solution to this is for public universities to abandon their quest for excellence and adopt cost-cutting strategies for educating students. Putting this debate into a historical context might help inform both legislatures and the general public.
The dichotomy between accessibility and quality has a long history. Early on Americans committed themselves to quality advanced education. As early as the 17th century Harvard was already recognized in England as a significant college.