“Question” by the Moody Blues”

One of the pieces that seems to be missing in the stories I have been able to find concerning Iowa’s continuing starvation of our education system is how this fits in with the history of education in Iowa. The steep proposed tuition increases announced at the U of Iowa earlier this week made me wonder when Iowa’s focus changed from education as a good for society to education as a commodity for an individual to purchase.

For a state that once used to proudly boast of our education systems and achievements we now sometimes mouth those words but back it up with nothing.

Following WWII education was seen as an answer to many of our problems. Teach our children to think, to explore, to challenge old norms and in time society as a whole would reap the benefits in higher standards of living and happier lives. As a means to that end, school systems at that time seemed to be well funded. 

There was always the tug of war between the dream schools and what could really be afforded. However, it seemed that most of the populace saw education as a long term investment for society. Today education seems to be a commodity that an individual  invests in with hopes of making an individual return on investment for themselves.

This short background leads to my question – when did education cease to be a focus for our state and why? 

Growing up in Iowa during the 1950s and 1960s a good quality education for the children was a source of pride in every small town in Iowa. For many of those towns maintaining schools was fiscally impossible although most gave up the fight only as a last resort. Good local schools was the focal point of most towns. When consolidation became necessary, making sure the schools were the best they could be was top priority.

Something happened on the way to great education in Iowa. Sometimes when we live through changes we don’t even realize what happened. Sometimes trying to dig out what happened years later in a somewhat isolated sector in one state can be hard. This is the stuff of masters theses and doctoral dissertations I suspect.

While people like me were busy raising families in an environment of constant crisis there was little time to understand what the undercurrents were that were shaping our futures.

This was the time of Ronald Reagan and his supply side economics – or “voodoo economics” as George HW Bush so aptly described it. This was the time of the first reign of King Terry in Iowa. Slowly, what seemed to be the reigning philosophy of wanting to benefit society gave way to a philosophy of everybody is on their own.

Was it the so called Reagan revolution that turned a state like Iowa from a place where we cared about educating our children to a society that cared much more about tax cuts for the wealthy? That prioritized tax abatements for new businesses over preparing a well educated work force?

One set of figures I have been trying to find is to what degree did the state and federal governments subsidize the education of Iowa’s public university students. I have heard or read somewhere that in the late 1950s through much of the 1960s and 1970s that our public colleges were subsidized as much as 85%. This undergirded the concept that an educated populace is good for society.

Nor have I been able to find what the comparable subsidy is today. Once again I only have a vague recollection of having read that today society through its governments subsidize at only about a 20% level.

Whatever those exact figures, we do know that most students leaving ISU, UI or UNI in the 60s and 70s probably had little debt if any. Many were able too work a part time job to pay for their education and a place to live. In dramatic contrast, students leaving our state universities today are among America’s most heavily indebted coming out of college. And it is about to get much worse.

Now just to rub salt into the wounds of those going deeply in debt to get an education (and remember those huge debts can not be discharged through bankruptcy) the cost of tuition is about to go up over 40% over the next 5 years. The reason behind this drastic increase is due in most part to budget mismanagement by Reynolds, Branstad  and the Republican legislature.

Much like the health care crisis in this country where we are told by the Republican Party in particular that our country (the wealthiest country ever on the face of the earth) can’t afford to provide health care for all its citizens, when every other major country on earth can, and they do so at a cost 40 % or more lower than we spend.

Most other countries offer higher education to their citizens free. Education and healthcare should not be profit centers but investments for the long term good of the society.


Iowa’s two faces of budget mismanagement

About Dave Bradley

retired in West Liberty
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