Tag Archives: higher education

3rd Centavo: Horatio Alger: The Myth of Public Higher Education

by Rodolfo F. Acuña

The United States is the land of illusions. Like Disneyland, it is more fiction than reality. The American Dream is part of surreal world, constructed as a form of social control that distorts the memory  blinding Americans to the injustices, inequalities and imperfections of American society. Like old Shirley Temple movies, Americans are princes and princesses who pass through bad times believing that they will be saved because they are Americans.

These illusions are built around myths such as that of Horatio Alger that has persisted for over 150 years. For Americans Horatio Alger is as real as Superman.

Horatio Alger Jr in 1867 published the first of over 120 books that told the tale of rags to riches to young working class boys. The moral of the stories was that if the boys led exemplary lives, struggled against poverty and adversity that they could make it. Someday they would be rich and heirs to the American Dream.

The stairway to the American Dream was meritocracy and education. America was the land of opportunity, every American if he worked hard enough could get an education; it was free and more accessible in the United States than any place in world. Opportunity was knocking, and it was your fault if you did not take advantage of it.

The Horatio Alger Myth resembles fantasy tales such as Superman, Captain America, Spiderman and Batman. The truth be told, Horatio Alger just like education has never been equal or free in America.

Even during the Post-World War II era when the illusion was more plausible, accessibility depended on the hue of one’s skin and his or her social class.

In this context, Los Angeles has been called La La Land because Angelinos were said to be in their own world. However, this self-absorbed frame of mind is true of all Americans; they are not a benevolent, kind or generous people.

In 1960 Democratic Governor Pat Brown and University of California President Clark Kerr helped develop the California Master Plan for Higher Education. It neatly defined the roles of the University of California (UC), the California State College (CSC), and the California Community Colleges systems (CCC).

The master plan was the perfect pyramid: the UC was at the top, the state colleges in the middle and the junior colleges were at the bottom. The two-year college perpetuated the illusion that Californians were living the American Dream. Despite this wrongheaded logic, the college systems were important because they were tuition-free essentially guaranteeing free higher education to everyone.

But, the world was changing. American captains of industry had in the 1950s committed itself to deindustrialization and the globalization of its capital, lessening the need for an educated workforce. Just as the U.S. had imported German rocket scientists, the ruling elites’ worldview became more global; they felt they could import brainpower without paying for the education of the children of factory workers

In 1966 the illusion of equal opportunity suffered a fatal blow with the election of Governor Ronald Reagan who led the assault on the University of California. Reagan vowed to “clean up that mess in Berkeley” that, according to him, was led by “outside agitators” and left-wing subversives. Reagan laid the foundations for a shift to a tuition-based funding model. The goal was to eliminate taxes and privatize public institutions.

Moneyed interests nationwide set out to destroy public two-year schools, which served almost one-half of the nation’s first-year college students. By the 21st century, as tuition soared at the four year universities, students were pushed down to the community colleges.

The Great Recession of 2008 ended all illusions of public education. By 2011, the UC officially switched from a system of fees to an explicitly tuition-centric model. Moreover, since 2007, the UC has promoted the admission out-of-state and foreign students as a way of raising revenues. Incentives were built into the admission process to admit fewer California students.

California has stopped building new colleges and universities; new buildings are built in great part from student funds. Programs such as the UNAM/CSUN accord are vested in student funds. According to many critics the process is irreversible.

From 2005 to 2010, over 75 percent of newly accredited colleges and universities were for-profits funded in global capital markets. For-profits now make up over 25 percent of all post-secondary institutions in the United States. Without saying so, they are more expensive than the former public universities. The outcome is that students leave college with higher student debts.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education is projected to make $127 billion in profit over the next decade from lending to college students and their families. These loans are packaged and sold to financial institutions and hedge funds. The truth be told, grants to low income students subsidize the growing for profit and so-called non-profit universities.

In a 2010 exposé Peter Byrne reported that the UC’s $53 billion portfolio invested in two for-profits institutions completing Ronald Reagan vision of destroying “the creeping communism of master-planned and state-funded public education.”

In 2011, California public colleges and universities received 13 percent less in state funding; this was not by accident. By this this time “nearly half of all graduates of public and private four-year schools in California were saddled with an average debt load of $18,000”; the national average was $26,682.

It is also not an accident that funding for community colleges remained static although demand had increased. Reduced class offerings, fewer sections of the classes, and the laying off of faculty and staff forced many students into for profit schools. These overbooked classes took the two year colleges to the breaking point.

One proposed solution was to charge students an added fee to get priority registration for impacted classes. In 2010, because of a student uproar, a contract was cancelled with the for-profit Kaplan University to offer discounted online classes to community college students for community college credit.

Globally, education is important. When asked what was the key challenge facing Latin America over the next decade, the top answer among students was education. Students saw it as the key to jobs. However, increasingly through the intervention of American institutions such as the International Monetary Fund its leaders are adopting the American neo-liberal model, and for-profit colleges are flourishing in Brazil, Mexico and Chile.

Reading this material only makes the silence of the lambs more deafening.

The Daily Caller published an article titled “Why are the Clintons hawking a seedy, Soros-backed for-profit college corporation?” George Soros supposedly one of the good billionaires hired Bill Clinton as a pitchman for Laureate Education Inc., a for-profit higher education powerhouse. Laureate owns 75 schools in 30 countries. And it boasts of 800,000 students worldwide. Also promoting this venture is Henry Cisneros and other Clinton stalwarts.

How different are we today from the Gilded Age when railroad lobbyists would go on the floor of Congress and pass out railroad stock before a vote on railroad subsidies? This is not the Land of Oz, and if we are being had, we should at least be aware of it, and not adopt failed neo-liberal policies. What is happening to American public education should serve as a warning to Mexico and the rest of the world that “Made in America” does not mean quality.

I was just talking to one of my grandsons who boasted that he had just bought an annual pass to Disneyland for $359. According to him, it was a deal. I shrugged my shoulders, but really how different is this than believing in Horatio Alger and the American Dream?

Rodolfo Acuña, Ph.D., is an historian, professor emeritus, and one of various scholars of Chicano studies, which he teaches at California State University, Northridge. He is the author of Occupied America: A History of ChicanosDr. Acuña writes various opinions and essays on his Facebook page and allows sites to share his thoughts.

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3rd Centavo ~ Acuña – The Illusion That Education is a Stairway to Whiteness

Waiting for the Next Sputnik Moment

by Rodolfo F. Acuña

From the beginning, there has been the illusion that America was exceptional; it was not like Europe — America was the land of opportunity. Generally, the right to read was limited to the exceptional that were taught to read by their parents or a minister or later in private schools.

Access to education was limited to a chosen few who deserved the right to read the bible. Africans, Indians and poor women were considered unfit to study it.

It was not until the 1840s that an organized system came about through the leadership of education reformers such as Horace Mann and Henry Barnard, who operated in Massachusetts and Connecticut respectively. They helped create statewide common-school systems accessible to everyone and financed by public funds. These reformers believed that all children had the right to learn. They argued that education would improve society and prevent crime and poverty.

These progressives met resistance. The landowners and many of the elite and the wannabes did not want to pay for educating other people’s children especially if undeserving.

The flame of universal accessibility flickered until it was almost suffocated by the arrival of waves of new immigrants. Industrialists did not want thinkers but human robots. Moreover, child labor was an important pool of labor.

Nevertheless, reformers took up the cause of compulsory school attendance for the children of the new immigrants. The concept of compulsory education dates back to Plato in western civilization, and it was common to most early civilizations including Mesoamerica.

The motives varied, ranging from humanitarian and communitarian, to those who wanted to evangelize and Americanize the new immigrants who they correctly surmised were not going away.

The battle for compulsory school attendance lasted into the 1920s; however, urban and rural employers avoided compliance. Child labor was an important source of cheap labor, and it cost too much to educate children with lower intelligence.

Even so, the myth that everyone in the United States had an equal opportunity persisted – it was part of the myth of American exceptionalism.

By the 1920s, African Americans lived in an apartheid society, and the immigrants contained in ethnic ghettoes. During the decade, Congress passed strict immigration laws based on a policy of National origins that gave preference to Northern Europeans and drastically limited immigration from eastern and southern Europe. Through this form of genetic engineering over time Nordic and Germanic types would overwhelm the swarthy newcomers. The Mexican was considered a temporary nuisance while Puerto Ricans were citizens and thus endured.

During the 1930s, organized labor fought back and gained concessions. However, for the most part minorities were cheated. More opportunities opened for them during World War II, but at a price; many Mexican Americans and the poor paid with their lives. Mexicans numbered about a million and a half, and some say that close to a third served in the armed forces.

The war also brought the realization that Americans were under educated, and that if America was to remain a world power, it had to have a better educated work force. The median years of school completed for Americans, 25 years old and over, had only risen from 8.1 to 8.6 years from 1910 to 1940. By the forties, a bare 24 percent of Americans had completed high school. Because of federal aid to education, by 1970 53 percent had a high school diploma (by 2012, 86 percent).

What brought about this transformation was the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, known as the GI Bill of Rights. It was controversial and many legislators objected that paying veterans to go to school lessened their incentive to look for work while others believed that only for the privileged deserved a higher education.

The GI Bill proved a boon to education, and in the end it subsidized corporate America, supplying an educated workforce. By 1947, veterans were 49 percent of college admissions, and when the WW II GI Bill ended on July 25, 1956, 7.8 million of 16 million World War II veterans had attended school or training program.

According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, “More than half of the young adults of the 1940s and 1950s completed high school, and the median educational attainment of 25- to 29-years-olds rose to 12 years.” Then as now a high school diploma was the gateway to a higher education.

There is no denying that the GI Bill helped some Mexican Americans; however, the overwhelming number in 1960 did not meet college entrance requirements. In the Southwest where Mexican Americans were concentrated, the median years completed by whites was 11.2 in 1950, ten years later it was 12.1 years. For Mexican Americans, it was 5.4 in 1950 and 7.1 in 1960. In Texas the median for Mexican Americans was 3.5 and 4.8 years.

It must be noted that success in college depends on the family pocketbook, and the quality of K-12 schools. As a general rule Mexican American schools were markedly inferior to white schools. Moreover, the quality of the high school determined admittance to Tier 1 universities.

The next boon to higher education was the so-called Sputnik crisis of 1957. Educators had already been mobilized in 1955 by Russian detonation of the hydrogen bomb that shook feelings of American exceptionalism. In 1958 a reform minded Congress passed the National Defense Education Act, which increased funding for education at all levels. This included low-interest student loans to college students. It focused on scientific and technical education. The NDEA poured billions into the U.S. education system.

California got into the act and passed The California Master Plan for Higher Education of 1960, which was supposed to reform California public higher education, coordinating the University of California (UC), the California State College (CSC), and the California Community Colleges system (CCC). It was supposed to make higher education “available to all regardless of their economic means.”

To set the record straight educational reform for Mexican Americans did not take place in earnest until they took to the streets. In California and Texas as elsewhere the Sputnik moment came with school walkouts and campus turmoil of the late 1960. However, as in the case of the GI Bill and federal aid to education, the boom years of reform were over, and there were dark clouds in the horizon.

The ruling elite by the 1960s as in the case of the 1920s came back with renewed vigor.

Americans were getting older, more conservative electing mouthpieces such as California Governor Ronald Reagan, who launched a campaign to dismantle educational reform, privatizing the cost of higher education, increasing tuition, and lowering taxes for the elite. The public good was replaced with the corporate good.

By the 1980s, the stairway to the American middle-class heaven was dismantled, and the illusion of equality was dead for all but the dreamers.

Coasting light on this is a recent article in Mother Jones Magazine. From 2000-2012, Public spending on public education has dropped 30 percent even as enrollment at public colleges increased 34 percent. “[The] Consumer Price Index increased 33 percent; the median household income (adjusted for inflation) dropped 9 percent; the average four-year college tuition increased 44 percent…; [and] public college tuition increased 71 percent.”*

My reading of history tells me that American exceptionalism does not respond to reason; it does not respond to facts or appeals to the common good. So I am resigned to wait for the next Sputnik or for an implosion.

*Not a direct but configured quote.

Rodolfo Acuña, Ph.D., is an historian, professor emeritus, and one of various scholars of Chicano studies, which he teaches at California State University, Northridge. He is the author of Occupied America: A History of ChicanosDr. Acuña writes various opinions and essays on his Facebook page and allows sites to share his thoughts.

Texas Senate Passes Their Budget

With only two Democrats voting against the Texas Senate’s budget, the budget conversation continues, with the Texas House deciding on their budget in the near future. A conference committee will even out things between both budgets after all is said is done.

There’s been mixed reaction on the Dem side of things. Earlier in the day, I read a teacher’s union letter asking folks to call their respective senators to tell them to vote no. Although there is a slight increase in the budget for K-12 and higher education, it doesn’t come close to replacing what was cut two years ago. And, apparently, Annie’s List supports the Senators who voted no, Fort Worth’s Wendy Davis and Houston’s Sylvia R. Garcia.

Among other things, the proposed budget:

  • Under-funds public education by $3.9 billion

  • Funds public education at the lowest levels per student in two legislative sessions

  • Fails to include $310 million that would guarantee $7.7 billion in federal funds for Medicaid

  • Leaves money sitting untouched in Rick Perry’s pet project, the Rainy Day Fund

Other Democrats have released statements to back up their support of the SB 1, including one of my favorites, El Paso’s Jose Rodriguez:

Senate Bill 1 is an improvement from the last budget cycle. It contains items that are important for Senate District 29, such as tuition revenue bonds for UTEP and Texas Tech, as well as items that positively impact the state as a whole. This budget increases Medicaid reimbursement rates to pre-2011 levels, and overall spending on mental health services and graduate medical education. These funding increases will help increase access to care in a state with highest uninsured rate in the nation.

Nonetheless, this budget neither fully restores the cuts from 2011 nor adequately funds for population growth and inflation. For example, El Paso schools will only gain about a quarter back from what they lost in 2011. It also doesn’t expand Medicaid, which is fiscally irresponsible.

The good news is that we are still in the beginning stages of the budget process, and there will be several opportunities to fund these priorities as the session continues. I will continue to work to advance the ball on education and to find a solution to the Medicaid expansion stalemate.

Rodriguez pointed to alternative ways to fill those other voids, as did State Senator Leticia Van de Putte.

Senate Bill 1 is not a perfect budget, but I voted in favor of it because it at least moves our state in the right direction. As the legislative session progresses, I will be looking for other opportunities to restore funding that was cut in the previous session.

So, there you have it. As far as I’m concerned, I’m caught in between both sides of the “moving forward” and “just plain no” sides of this as I like that higher education has gotten a lot more than I would have expected after losing a billion dollars two years ago.

Let’s see where the less cooperative Texas House lands on this.

UPDATE:  ProgressTexas joins in on supporting 2 Senators who voted NO on budget.

Thankfully, two of our strongest Senators listened to your calls, stood up for what is right, and demanded we fight for the best possible future for Texas.

Help us thank Senators Wendy Davis and Sylvia Garcia for voting against this draft of the budget and showing they believe we should invest in the future of our state. We hope you will show your support for Senators Davis and Garcia today by calling them in their office or going to social media to show your support:

Wendy Davis - call her office to say thanks at (512) 463-0110

Sylvia Garcia - call her office to say thanks at (512) 463-0106

Kuff has a whole bunch more, including Senator Wendy Davis’ statement.

HCC Set to Add $425 Million Bond to Ballot

There’s no doubt that our community college systems are bursting at the seams and Rick Perry and the Republicans at the State Capitol have cut deeply into investment in higher education. And the results are quite noticeable as those of us served by Houston Community College System may get to vote on a $425 million bond package in November.

HCC officials say the bonds are needed to cope with exploding enrollment, rapidly-changing technology and shrinking state funding. In the last five years, enrollment has increased from 50,000 to 75,000, straining classrooms and campuses to their capacity, said HCC spokesman Dan Arguijo.

Anyone who feels investment in higher education should be a priority has some very good reasons to vote yes on this bond, if approved for the ballot by the HCCS Board.

As an example of the need for more space, HCC board chairman Mary Ann Perez pointed to HCC’s Coleman College for Health Sciences in the Texas Medical Center.

Built for 1,500 students, the facility now holds 3,500, leading to parking shortages, crowded classrooms and the turning away of 9 out of every 10 nursing applicants, Perez said. The bond proposal allots $120 million for a new health care education and early college building.

The plan also emphasizes workforce development in energy and the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math, Perez said.

“Houston is the energy capital of the world. The only way to maintain our leadership is to have a well-qualified and trained workforce,” Perez said. “Right now, we are simply unable to support student demand.”

Money would be designated for renovations or new construction at all six HCC colleges, including $27 million for a new workforce building in Stafford, $40 million in North Forest for workforce and early college buildings, and $53 million for a new westside campus at Westheimer and Eldridge Parkway.

There’s some opposition coming out of those served in Alief because they feel some of the promises made by HCC when they took them into the district have not been met. But the cash seems to be in the pipeline. Alief must be made a priority before some of this new bond money is expended on newer facilities. Still, there must be some strong demand for a westside campus.

It seems to me that this would be a worthy investment with a small increase in the property tax. Now that I actually live in the big city, I get to vote on this. Let’s see what the Board decides on Thursday.