What Price Education?

In suggesting wide-spread tuition and interest rate rises to help American universities and colleges provide more reasonable professorial salaries, Professor Sumner Slichter is using pressure group tactics to solve a problem whose implications are nationwide. His remedies might well precipitate more difficulties than they would solve. While the immediate hardships of fixed pre-war faculty salaries in a period of swollen living costs merit alleviation, no solution should ignore the more permanent problem of seeking the best over-all means for financing all phases of education.

Since many of the "best brains" are being lured away from the campus by the siren call of more money elsewhere, how can school incomes be raised to provide better salaries? Raising interest rates throughout the Nation would render university endowments and investments more profitable, but the only fair criteria for such an action would be its effect upon the Nation's economy. Hiking tuitions, which at Harvard account for 29 percent of University income, would also provide increased revenue, but a host of new problems even more fundamental to education than faculty salaries would arise.

From the long range point of view, at some future date a less prosperous United States would find higher tuition costs beyond the reach of most citizens, and higher education would once again go to those in higher tax brackets. Since the number of GI-Bill recipients will dwindle in a few years, such an occurrence is not unlikely. The chief argument for higher professorial wages--that better men could be attracted to provide finer education for those seeking it--would be negated by the fact that comparatively few could afford to go beyond secondary school. This was the case during the 1930's and the higher tuition advocates would see history repeat if the trade cycle dropped sharply.

In the short run, tuition rises would place the non-veteran who buys his education with private funds at a greater disadvantage. And the veteran student, living on a fixed income and confronted with the same high living costs facing professors, would have the choice of dropping education or badgering Congress for greater financial aid. In the light of past experience, the Congress would soon see that economic justice and political expediency called for greater payments to the vets. The breach between the veteran and non-veteran would be even further widened, and a new group would be dissatisfied.

Ways and means can be found to divert bulky school endowments from new gyms and libraries to better paying university chairs and finer research facilities, but eventually, all these problems resolve into the one broad question of whether the Federal Government should, as President Conant recently urged, subsidize the American educational system. If modern thinking holds that education is not a luxury for those able to afford it, but rather a social necessity for all capable of profiting by it, then the Federal Government, the one instrument equipped to reach all the people, must be partially responsible for assistance. Federal subsidization always raises the specter of Federal control; but it seems likely that if both educators and non-educators agree that Washington should have no voice in educational matters, a satisfactory plan could be evolved. Only this way can educators, students, and public receive fair and equal treatment.


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