In an attempt to address steeply rising tuition and housing costs, President Obama announced last week his plans to reformulate financial aid appropriations by executive order, effectively circumventing a dysfunctional and unproductive congress. The president deserves applause for making good on his 2012 State of the Union commitment to make higher education a priority, and we agree with the rhetoric he used last week at the University of Buffalo while on a tour to promote his reforms.
“In a knowledge-based economy, a great education is more important than ever,” the president said to a crowd of over 7,000 eager students. “Colleges are not going to just be able to keep on increasing tuition year after year and passing it on to students.”
Once the talking points are left at the podium, and the details of the plan are left to be examined, mainly large, for-profit universities will be benefiting from these changes, leaving smaller, non-profit universities such as USM without the financial backing they so desperately need. USM’s graduation rate is at a deplorable low of 32.9 percent, because of the greater appeal of the inexpensive commercialized online education options instead of a traditional classroom experience. Such a massive reorganization of federal appropriation should be done to increase positive outcomes for students and communities, to preserve traditional academic pillars found in medium-sized institutions like USM, not to punish or overlook struggling institutions that represent the fight of traditional liberal arts schools competing with the Kaplans and Colbys of the world.
Large for-profit certificate degree programs such the University of Phoenix (owned by the Washington Post) and Kaplan University are positioned to receive more funding under the president’s new plan. These over-commercialized colleges graduate students quickly and cheaply, yet fail to provide any real substance for the student and surrounding communities. USM, on the other hand, does so much more than simply create and develop a workforce. The faculty produce scholarship that reaches all corners of the globe, students create artwork and perform for the community and the facilities create a place for the city of Portland and the state of Maine to have their facilities for public use. Certainly, there is a lot that needs to be done at USM to further improve the student experience and the university’s value for students, but without additional state and federal support, USM will continue to experience hard times .