Rick Perry's Sales Pitch for Cheaper, Dumber Universities Is a Lie
All you ambitious students out there, please take time to understand what Governor Rick Perry is really doing to you when he says he wants to help you graduate from college. It's the opposite.
- Rick Perry's Manufactured Miracle
What Perry really wants to do is the same old thing he has always wanted -- grind down Texas universities, weaken them, turn them into trade schools and devalue today's top-tier Texas diplomas into waste paper.
It's how he rolls. It's how he has always rolled. Perry makes hay politically by railing against higher education, throwing mud at universities and their faculties and hoping the hicks will like his act.
The latest Perry assault is his recently unveiled plan to freeze tuition for college students and tie state support for universities to graduation rates. Does it sound like he's on your side? Look again.
For years at Perry's urging state government has been starving universities -- and you -- of the state support that made them great in the first place and that helped you graduate. This isn't new. The Texas Tribune, reporting on this trend two years ago, showed how Perry has been gradually pulling the rug out from under universities with one hand while he puts the other one in your pocket for higher and higher tuition:
Since deregulation in 2003, the share of college costs shouldered by students has shot up while the state's portion has inched up ... At UT-Austin, for instance, the students collectively paid $259 million in 2003 -- compared to $491 million this year. Meanwhile, the state paid $286 million in 2003 and $323 million this year.
Monica Rohr of the Houston Chronicle reported on the same trend last April: "In 2009, students at public universities were paying 72 percent more than they had been six years earlier, forcing many families to borrow more money or forgo college."
Meanwhile Perry has helped engineer a general gutting of public schools in Texas, exacerbating the challenge that colleges face dealing with a population of under-prepared high school graduates: "The state falls far short of national averages in most measures of college readiness, enrollment, and graduation rates," The Texas Tribune reported. "For example, only 32 percent of Texans 25 or older have earned at least an associate's degree, putting Texas 39th among states in that measure."
Don't be fooled about why Perry acts this way. Take a look at Paul Burka's piece in Texas Monthly last year, which started out, "Rick Perry is waging a quiet war against our current system of higher education, which makes him a lot like some previous governors. He may win, but we'll lose."
Hey, come to think of it, take a look at our piece too, published when Perry was running for president, in which we quoted people from all sides of the political spectrum shaking their heads over Perry's determined assault on higher education. They were especially alarmed by a Perry plan to pressure universities and professors to do less research and spend their time instead in classrooms teaching.
John Sibley Butler, a professor of entrepreneurship and small business at the University of Texas in Austin and director of an institute that studies and promotes economic growth in Texas, said, "To me, it's a disgrace to the tradition of scholarship and discovery."
Texan Terry Sullivan, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina, (not the same Terry Sullivan who works for Florida Senator Marco Rubio ) told us: "The reason we don't have kudzu in Texas is because researchers, not teachers but researchers at Texas A&M University, know how to stop that stuff."
Sullivan, a national fellow of the conservative Hoover Institution, said, "The reason our cattle are more productive in Texas even though they live on really crappy land is because researchers, not teachers, at Texas A&M discovered how to make cattle stronger.
"For somebody to think that major state universities like Texas A&M should focus on teaching and not research is to grossly misunderstand the importance of fundamental research to the economy of the state of Texas.
"So if a governor's only claim to fame is his ability to improve the economy of Texas and he doesn't get that, then there must be a critical difference between how the Texas economy got where it is and that governor's role in it."
Part of the Perry plan just announced is a provision that would tie state funding of universities to their graduation rates -- a way of pressuring state institutions to graduate everybody they enroll. That might sound good to you students out there. You might think, "Hey, if I get in, I'm guaranteed a diploma."
Listen. You know better than that. Why is a degree from UT or Tech or A&M worth so much more in the world than some diploma you bought off late-night TV? Because it's so much harder to get.
Think about Perry's idea for half a minute. It's like telling companies that once they hire somebody they can never fire them. They have to keep them on the pay-roll no matter what until they retire.
You see through that. He's sucking up to you with something that sounds like a break, but in fact it's going to make that college degree you've worked so hard to achieve worth the same as the late-night TV thing.
Here's an even trickier one to figure. What about his idea to freeze your tuition? That sounds good, doesn't it? But think it over. At the same time he's freezing the amount you pay, he's pulling the rug out from under your university by scaling down the amount he gives them. What will that do over time?
If you attend a top state university in Texas right now, you will be taught by people who are job-hopping and moving around from Harvard to UT to A&M to Yale to Tech to Brown, because right now Texas's top-tier universities can still afford to hire and still have enough academic prestige to attract people of that quality.
You let Rick Perry sell you on this idea of stripping down the funding for universities even more than he has already, and you're going to be taught by less-than-average high school teachers. Everybody's going to know that's who you were taught by. And your degree is going to be worth not very damn much.
This guy is not your friend. If your ambition is to work hard for a valuable college degree, he's your worst enemy. Keep your eyes open. Keep your hand on your money. Keep believing that anything worth the trouble is going to be hard to do.