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Bobby Jindal

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal

There was once a time in the United States (and not that long ago) in which the idea of guaranteeing every American the opportunity to obtain a free public education all the way through college was a widely — even universally — shared  dream. In the mid-20th Century, states throughout the country worked hard to expand their community colleges and universities and to keep tuition and fees to a bare minimum. Republicans and Democrats were on board. Here in North Carolina, we even enshrined this important value in our state constitution.

And then, in the latter part of the century, the  anti-government, tax-cutting Right reared its backward-looking head. Fueled by millions from reactionary corporate oligarchs, these ideologues commenced a crusade against “government schools” and progressive taxation and within a few decades, thousands of once nearly-free colleges and universities were charging huge, debt-inducing sums to attend.

Now, President Obama, much to his credit, is pushing back against this destructive trend with his proposal to establish a national program — based on work in Tennessee — to make community college free to all students who meet certain requirements. It is an inspired and overdue proposal.

Unfortunately and not surprisingly, the ideologues are pushing back with absurd and hateful blather about “giveaways” and “freebies.” Listen to Louisiana Governor Booby Jindal as quoted in an editorial in this morning’s Wilmington Star News:

“Why stop there?” he said. “Why not have the government buy a car and a house for everyone?”

Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. When supposedly serious elected officials equate providing access to public education with giving people free houses and cars, the national political debate has truly sunk to a new low.

As the Star News noted with admirable restraint in response to Jindal: Read More

Commentary

Higher Ed.jpgAny outsider trying to grasp the essence of the ideological debate in modern America in 2015 would do well to look at the two competing takes on President Obama’s proposal to make two years of community college affordable to all Americans.

On the progressive, forward-looking side there are views like the one’s expressed in this morning’s Charlotte Observer editorial:

“President Obama’s proposal to give free tuition to community college students acknowledges a clear shift in the relationship between education and employment: A high school education is no longer enough to ensure a good chance at a decent job….

In states with tight budgets, such as North Carolina, that’s a potentially steep bill. But Gov. Pat McCrory has been a vocal supporter of community colleges, and legislators should recognize the payoff of this investment.

It’s no different, really, from the principles that have long supported K-12 public education. When children graduate from high school, they help themselves and their communities thrive. The jobs they want are changing, however. We need to change, too.”

And on the nay-saying, backward-looking, stuck-in-the-mud side there are views like this borderline offensive blog post on a local conservative group’s blog entitled “Time to Grab Some More ‘Free Stuff’ From the President”:

“It’s amazing how much ‘free’ stuff costs these days — so much so that President Obama declined to put a price tag on the ‘free’ community college prize package he offered up this week to ‘anyone who’s willing to work for it.’ Let’s see now. If someone is ‘willing to work for it,’ how about saving the money earned while ‘working for it’ and paying the tab for tuition? Evidently taking responsibility for one’s future doesn’t qualify as ‘working for it’ when it comes to a leftists such as President Obama.

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Sex license plateWe’ve known for a long time that the chief mission of the Pope Center for Higher Education is to undermine and dismantle North Carolina’s system of universities and community colleges. As reported in this space on numerous occasions, the group puts out almost-daily missives calling for higher education to be privatized, more expensive and more exclusive.

But why? What’s behind this strange hatred for something that most people would regard as American as apple pie? A new fundraiser from the group may finally contain to key to understanding the Pope Center’s peculiar mania: the problem is that students are having too much fun.

In an appeal sent out yesterday the group list five things that it claims will happen if one sends them money. Here is #3:

3) Academic quality will take center stage.
If alumni learn that general education at most schools is lousy (we have published a detailed report on UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State), that grade inflation is rampant, and there’s still too much partying and sex. They will insist on improvements.” (Emphasis supplied).

Ah hah — the truth comes out! It always seemed a safe bet that the Pope people were a cadre of Vernon Wormer wannabes. Now, there’s confirmation.

 

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You know North Carolina has jumped off the cliff into the abyss when even two conservative figures with close ties to the John Locke Foundation are deriding the latest budget and tax policy choices made by state leaders.

Here, for instance, is longtime Locke Foundation Board member Assad Meymandi in Saturday’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“Some 60 years ago, the founding fathers of the new North Carolina – transforming an agrarian society into an educational, technical and industrial state – folks like the late Bill Friday, Archie Davis, Gov. Luther Hodges and others saw the future salvation of our beloved state by heavily investing in education.

Their efforts have produced, among other things, a very strong UNC system of 16 campuses, parallel with the creation of the incomparable network of community colleges. They also advocated a strong N.C. Symphony, N.C. Museum of Art and other cultural and artistic institutions to attract educated and culturally inclined people to the state. Investing in education has paid off. N.C. economy has thrived because of its excellent public universities. UNC-Chapel Hill alone brings in annually around $900 million in research money and grants. It is truly frightening to see what the legislature is doing to the budgets of UNC system, N.C. community college system and UNC-TV. Read More

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With the House’s budget plan moving to the floor Wednesday,  the head of the state’s community college system is making it clear he’s concerned with the numbers being floated thus far. Dr. Scott Ralls issued the following statement Tuesday:

scott-ralls“We are very concerned about the direction that the House Budget would take North Carolina’s community colleges.  Our per student funding from state resources has declined significantly, and we are already funded at a much lower level than other sectors of education in our state.  While the House Budget recognizes additional roles for community colleges to play and students for us to serve, it continues an overall erosion of resources that place a monumental challenge on all 58 of our community colleges. Our hope is that the final budget will better reflect the vital role community colleges play in our state’s economic recovery and reflect the Senate position.”