When critically evaluating a public service it is hard to see past the service itself. Many look at a hospital or other municipal facility like a school and see the services they provide, but do not consider that they are a business as well. The individuals running these facilities must abide by many regulations, make the public happy, and run a successful business, which means making a profit after paying salaries and overhead. I know of someone that went to a hospital out of necessity and refused to pay the bill on the principal that it should just be a public service. He also works in a sector of public service and while he does not want to pay the bill he also does not want the government involved in healthcare. What a conundrum. The term “public services” refers to a wide range of work including plumbing, firefighting, policing, counseling, nursing, and of course, education.
Education as a public service is often overlooked, as it is so much a part of every day life for Americans. We all want a quality education from prekindergarten to higher education. However, the government budget tends to not reflect this. There is little funding for lower education and even less for those aspiring to go further. This is unlikely to change anytime soon. In fact, it is more likely that the budget will be cut in many instances, leaving institutions to find ways to balance the budget without those funds. If the government moved to change student support and limited financial aid to only that which would cover in-state flagship universities, many universities would transfer the lost money in federal funds to the pockets of the families.
As previously mentioned, even civic services are businesses and as such they are aiming to make some type of a profit or at a minimum break-even. Only the federal government can be in the red indefinitely and not suffer dire consequences. Even an elite university like Harvard would not be prepared or accepting of swallowing the cost. Really, they probably would not have to. In general, I would assume that those who attend Harvard are elite. Their families have the money regardless of the amount of financial aid. The universities that would suffer would be those like The University of Oklahoma, which accept many students from places like California and Texas. Honestly, with the current state of the economy and budgets, they could not balance finances lacking the financial aid without transferring that cost to something or someone else. Students and their families would most likely “absorb” the costs. Some would be unable to shoulder such a financial burden and make different choices for their academic careers.
Another suggested change to cut the budget is differing the amount of financial aid depending upon chosen majors. While looking from an economic stance this could be a viable solution, as certain majors will contribute more, things in theory do not usually work out in execution. Not only could someone be locked in to something that is absolutely miserable but also a degree cannot determine your productivity. In addition, there are many factors that would make it nearly impossible to determine which majors are “worth” more. It holds the possibility of encouraging an even more unbalanced society as far as what subject matter is placed in esteemed positions leading to more dysfunction rather than lessening it.
Ultimately, government-related financial aid dictating where or how students “do” college is not going to accomplish anything except raising the cost of college for the students’ families, more unemployed graduates, and less happy (and probably less productive) college students. Overall it would be ineffective at solving any of the difficulties currently facing the system. I do not know what the solution is, and I highly doubt anyone else does either. It will take several tries and probably several failures to establish what will “work” in higher education. Probably a good place for society to start would be making a joint decision about what we want from higher education, if we want the government to pay for it, if we want students to continue to bare the cost. It is extremely difficult to reach a goal when there is not one established.
*Images attributed to Pinterest, Google Images, and MemeCenter, respectively.