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Cuts to higher education must stop

The state has fallen back on higher education cuts as a remedy to its own fiscal problems. This is short-sighted and a step along the path to ruin.

It's important to point out there are no easy or fun cuts to be made in St. Paul. Whether it's a cut to K-12 education, health and human services or roads, someone is going to feel the impact immediately.

Maybe that's part of the problem. With higher ed cuts, the only people feeling the immediate bite are current students. And since they're a small part of the population, and they usually don't vote, it seems to have become a convenient place to go after a large sum of money.

But let's think about what we're doing here. A few years back, the Minnesota state demographer and state economist from Gov. Pawlenty's administration warned of the generational change we were heading into. They explained that a lot of skilled workers would be leaving the workforce. The baby boomers would not only need skilled and smart people to take their places in the workplace, but the large influx of retirees would require skilled care and services of their own. The sheer size of the generation would mean we'd need a well-trained and responsive workforce.

What have we done since then? Made the problem worse. As cut after cut has been made to higher education, the tuition at two- and four-year colleges has risen sharply. It's getting to the point that it's putting college out of the reach of most people who are struggling just to pay bills and get by.

Why is that everyone's problem? Because we need mechanics who know how to fix cars that rely on computers. We need doctors and nurses who know how to perform challenging and life-saving procedures. We need engineers who know how to build cities more efficiently. We need teachers who will look after tomorrow's generation. We need welders to build things and accountants to balance the books. We all need those things -- not just the people employed in those professions.

Think about the job you have today. Would you be willing to take out a loan today for $100,000 and spend the next four years getting retrained to have the same job at the same salary four years from now? What if the price tag were $200,000? Yet we require young people to shoulder that sort of debt load so they can get a $20,000 a year job? Doesn't seem worth it for them. But if they don't do it, we all suffer.

We're setting up a system where only the wealthiest kids can afford to learn the skills of the 21st century. And with the stunning (and still growing) gap between the rich and the poor in America today, they won't be enough bodies to fill all of the jobs we need.

Is this really our strategy for competing with the Chinese or the Europeans -- we plan to get dumber?

Well, look at that, it seems we're succeeding already.

The Pioneer Journal editorial represents the voice of the newspaper's editorial board. Today's editorial was written by Steve Schulz, editor and publisher.