Crisis in Education
Three previous editorials in this series have depicted a severe money crisis in America's colleges and universities. Private wealth, even with much greater administrative efficiency, cannot close completely the gap between income and expenses. As a result several sweeping proposals have been advanced not only to find an escape from financial insolvency but also to enable a greater number of qualified students to continue their studies beyond the secondary school level.
The proposals include: 1) direct federal subsidies to private institutions, 2) Federal national scholarships, 3) establishment of community junior colleges, and 4) direct Federal aid to states. All but the first of these four proposals can help solve the current educational crisis without danger to the schools involved.
Simply providing direct Federal subsidies to private institutions would be a magic-wand solution, if only certain considerable disadvantages were not attached. Such a program would be expensive, create administrative perplexities in distributing the funds, and would almost certainly result in some degree of government control. "He who pays the piper calls the tune." Educators fear that the government could easily impose specifications on what is done with the money it donates, and also that money-doling legislatures might frown on universities whose professors speak out of turn. Diversity is one of the great features of our educational system: a college or university must be free to form its own values, teach what it will, and choose its own economics in restricting its student body and range of activity.
A better solution than Federal aid expressed in subsidies would be the recently proposed $300,000,000 program for Federal scholarships. Such a scheme, if administered correctly, might be immune to Federal control, and would hit directly at the problem of helping qualified men of low income families reach college. As proposed to Congress by the President, this plan would "assist capable youths who could not otherwise do so" to attend any institution of their choice that would admit them. Such a program, however, would only be as effective as the machinery set up for determining the intellectual qualifications and real financial need of the applicants.
This Federal scholarship program should be as much liked the G. I. Bill of Rights as possible, for in order to help the institutions, the money flowing in must be enough to cover the additional outlays required to finance a larger student body. This "Civilian Bill of Rights" would then be a financial blessing to the schools whether or not they wanted to expand enrollment. Colleges like Harvard that might not choose to take in any more students could be more selective of those they did admit; at he same time they could save some of their precious unrestricted funds as the government took over part of the scholarship burden. Meanwhile, other colleges that wanted to expand could now do so profitably.
To some people the $300,000,000 needed annually for this scholarship program seems a huge amount of Federal money, especially since improvement of primary and secondary school education is an even more pressing need and deserves precedence. But the percentage of national income spent on education has been declining each year, despite the increased importance of trained citizens in a complicated world. Since private wealth cannot bear the full lead of financing higher education, some of the needed funds for all levels of education must come out of the Federal budget.
This is not to neglect the potentialities of aid through the states; many states are simply too poor to support high-standard colleges and universities. Along with Federal help to states for secondary school systems there should be a propping of the poorer states' efforts for higher education. In this way many a four-year college could be improved and, perhaps more important, junior colleges could be established. As suggested by President Conant, two year junior colleges-staffed by qualified teachers-would serve both as centers of adult education and as means of answering the demand of those who either could not meet the high standards of four year institutions or did not want to lay aside the four years for study. Once established by the states, these tow-year colleges could be taken over in many uses by private or municipal hands.
Some of the lower-standard four-year colleges that cannot attract the national scholarship money may still collapse. But Federal aid to state systems would provide two-year colleges to replace whichever of ht weaker four-year schools still go bankrupt in the crush.
The legislative difficulties with which Federal aid to lower school systems is currently being treated make it pain that such a program for higher education is a long way off. But something of this order will eventually be needed to solve the problems that private wealth fails to solve. Through Federal national scholarships, which need not mean Federal control, more qualified men can receive a college education, while simultaneously a part of the financial burden is lifted from the private institutions.