Gov. Matt Bevin campaigned on the promise that he would “lead the charge” to cut taxes and shrink the government. “We are not borrowing money from our children and grandchildren anymore,” Bevin proclaimed. Conservatives love to talk about the debt, and they always seem to hide behind claims that they are fighting for our children and grandchildren.
While Bevin likes to choose only the facts that suit his political agenda, it is hard to ignore the fact that his recently-declared war on college students shifts burdens of this generation onto the backs of the next. And call it what you want, but raising tuition rates on college students is just a tax on students in a different package. Bevin may not be proposing a tuition hike, but reducing college funding by 4.5 percent leaves colleges and universities with few options to meet their budget requirements.
Here is Bevin, who doesn’t want to borrow money from our children and grandchildren, making them pay for the state’s budget shortfall. Don’t get me wrong, the pension shortfall must be accounted for, but it would be hypocritical and counterproductive to do it at the expense of students.
Maybe a more basic way of looking at it would be: Should we burden students who have yet to earn money, or the people and corporations who already have money?
I don’t think Bevin is being intentionally heartless towards the next generation. I just don’t think the right side of his brain can hear his left side. See, while the left side of my brain might be loud and obnoxiously sarcastic, it will, from time to time, stop and reason with the right.
Bevin promotes himself as a savvy businessman (although we wonder why he has not released his tax returns, despite proclaiming to be the outsider working for transparency). Part of his success came from investing in companies to make more for himself and others. That is what is needed now. Invest in education. Don’t cut it. You want to help your children and grandchildren? Invest in their future: Don’t burden them with a life of growing personal debt.
Kentucky has demonstrated in the past that an investment in its public universities can produce meaningful returns on that investment. Started in 1997 by Democratic Gov. Paul Patton, Bucks for Brains, known as B4B, created six state-funded trust funds that helped Kentucky’s universities invest in areas of need: Research Challenge, Regional University Excellence, Technology Initiative, Physical Facilities, Postsecondary Workforce Development, and Student Financial Aid and Advancement. In 10 years, the state invested over $350 million in its universities, investments that were matched by donations from charities, corporations, private donations and other non-profit agencies. This pumped over $700 million into the endowments of Kentucky’s eight public universities.
An overview report issued at the end of the program in 2006 found that B4B led to over 150 endowed chairs and 227 endowed professorships across the state. The estimated economic impact was staggering: B4B led to a $1 billion increase in the value of endowment assets at UK and UofL, 17 percent of all federal research and development expenditures were by B4B faculty, 30 percent of the state’s new patent applications came from B4B faculty, and 36 percent of Kentucky start-up companies were “dependent on university-generated technology created by B4B faculty.”
More important, this type of investment enhances the culture of real education in public universities. It attracts better faculty, which, in turn, attracts better students. It attracts more investment in our workforce development, and it helps reduce the financial burden on the next generation.
I do not envy Bevin. Like most political issues, if there were an easy solution, it would have been done by now. But cutting public university funding is not the solution, nor should it be part of any solution. By doing so, we are creating many more future problems than solving current ones. By cutting public university funding, Bevin and other politicians who profess the virtue of not stealing from our children and grandchildren are, by definition, hypocrites. They are putting the burdens of their generation on those that follow. •