in the 1970s have surged since 1980. Inflation-adjusted tuition and fee charges have increased by 247 percent at state flagship universities, by 230 percent at state universities and colleges, and by 164 percent at community colleges since 1980.”
Meanwhile, many competing industrialized nations have done away with tuition all together. Demos finds that “when states cut higher education funding, schools essentially have two options for closing the gap: raise student charges—tuition, fees, room, and board—or cut salaries and services. Most states have chosen to [...] [implement] steep hikes in charges for tuition, room, and board, and [cut] thousands of course offerings and positions.”
current federal tax breaks and grants to assist them, instead of towards private universities that disproportionately escalate the rising cost of higher education.
Even amid the draconian cuts to primary, secondary, and tertiary education, many politicians are pursuing the laudable goal of further expanding education before Kindergarten, as well. Mayor Bill De Blasio of New York City ran his 2013 campaign on a platform to independently fund pre-K through a tax on high income earners. The tax portion of the plan was scrapped by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in lieu of a separate statewide Pre-K plan, but the Mayor’s plan illustrates the a vision in which education is not subject to cuts by state authorities thanks to a stable revenue source.
and his Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton believed that the federal government could better finance war debts and, in doing so, build a more integrated national economy. The federal government’s first foray into civilian higher education was the Morrill Act of 1862, creating a system of land grant universities to teach and research military tactics, agriculture, mechanical arts, and classical studies.
Yet, as the debt ceiling battle and the sequester have shown, the discretionary budget (including defense and most federal offices), while solvent, is at the mercy of the daily political ebb and flow. A new financing system for education should be modeled after Social Security and Medicare, which are not-discretionary programs that are automatically funded, even during a government shutdown.
In addition to increasing the stability of education spending during a recession, funding education as a federal non-discretionary program could offer many other benefits. Primary and Secondary schools would see their funding de-coupled from local property tax revenue, allowing for more equity in funding regardless of real estate values in a given school district. In a federally funded higher education system, “in-state” tuition could be expanded nationwide. This could allow schools to specialize in specific fields and attract the best talent from around the country. With stable funding, public colleges and universities reverse the trend of rising higher education costs, and put economic pressure on non-profit and for-profit schools to follow suit in order to remain competitive.
How would such a system be financed? Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, designed as worker insurance policies, charge the FICA tax on employees and employers. The current system of property taxes, state income taxes, and sales taxes all have flaws. Property taxes deny low income communities the funding that higher income communities receive. State income taxes can be affected by regional downturns in the economy, and sales taxes shift the heaviest burden on low income families with the least disposable income. A new system designed to benefit youth could be funded in a way that actually solves in another intergenerational crisis, global climate change. While past generations have been able to pollute without concern for the impact on their children, a truly progressive solution to promote equity and security for young people would be to finance a new American educational system through a tax on Carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases.
Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) and the generations that come after us have much to gain from such a system. While the 78 million Americans born in the wake of World War II (the “Baby Boomers”) begin to collect Social Security, Millennials continue to collect college debt, as their younger siblings see their grade school teachers laid off.
youth turnout, Millennials and successive generations will have the power to reset the fiscal agenda at every level of government and being the work of achieving budget equity.
For more information on how to mobilize on issues important to Millennials, you can check out Generation Progress. To get more information on how to vote, visit the Electoral Assistance Commission website. If you like public policy and would like to learn more about progressive solutions facing the country consider joining the GW Roosevelt Institute, or find your local chapter here.
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