State?s Higher Ed Reform Puts a Skeptic In Charge

Sharon Rieger's picture
Monday, July 18, 2011

Of all the shuffling and consolidating that Gov. Dan Malloy came up with this year to pretend to balance the budget, perhaps nothing was as painless and under-the-radar as the merging of the state’s various higher education fiefdoms.

For a small state with a population about the size of Chicago, Connecticut has been home to enough different college and university campuses and administrative bodies to service several medium-sized countries.

In the best of times, politicians love to provide generously for the care and feeding of higher education. The campuses provide teaching and research slots for political pals, they funnel research money to projects blessed by politicians and lobbyists — and in a state such as Connecticut, generosity toward higher ed is a subtle way of saying goodbye to the brass mills and typewriter factories and textile plants, and hello to high-tech and Shakespeare scholars.

And even then, the community colleges can be trotted out and funded well, with an acknowledgement that someone must learn about heating, air conditioning and car repair.

It is a political Garden of Eden. You fund, or overfund, higher ed; you bask in the praise — with the recognition that the means to evaluate the “investment” is almost nonexistent. The marginal value of that next dollar you spend on higher ed? Who knows? Who cares?

Long before the recent job-gobbling recession and ongoing economic sluggishness, a federal Monthly Labor Review study in the 1990s noted that many college graduates were accepting jobs appropriate for high school graduates, because the United States has “a surplus of university graduates.”

Of course, now that every state has dreams of being the next high-tech oasis, the lust for college graduates is unabated, whether or not there are jobs at the end of the rainbow.

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