Monday, October 5, 2009

Cracks in the Future

Matt Belloni forwarded me this terrific editorial about the impact budget cuts are having on public schools. The subject is Berkeley, my alma mater, but it easily could have been about Michigan, Virginia, Wisconson or the other large public universities.

"More of Berkeley’s undergraduates go on to get Ph.D.’s than those at any other university in the country. The school is among the nation’s leaders in producing winners of the Nobel Prize. An extraordinary amount of cutting-edge research in a wide variety of critically important fields, including energy and the biological sciences, is taking place here."

Berkeley is caught in a full-blown budget crisis with nothing much in the way of upside in sight. The school is trying to cope with what the chancellor, Robert Birgeneau, described as a “severe and rapid loss in funding” from the state, which has shortchanged Berkeley’s budget nearly $150 million this year, and cut more than $800 million from the higher education system as a whole.
This is like waving goodbye to the futures of untold numbers of students. Chancellor Birgeneau denounced the state’s action as “a completely irresponsible disinvestment in the future of its public universities.”

We should all care about this because Berkeley is an enormous and enormously unique national asset. As a public university it offers large numbers of outstanding students from economically difficult backgrounds the same exceptionally high-quality education that is available at the finest private universities.

Something wonderful is going on when a school that is ranked among those at the very top in the nation and the world is also a school in which more than a third of the 25,000 undergraduates qualify for federal Pell grants, which means their family incomes are less than $45,000 a year. More than 4,000 students at Berkeley are from families where the annual income is $20,000 or less.

More than a third are the first in their families to attend a four-year college."

I've excerpted some of his comments but the entire article deserves a read. I am one of those middle class kids who would have been squeezed in this economic environment and I'm also the first in my family to attend a four-year college. I couldn't agree more that Berkeley and the public education system is one of the greatest assets our country and it pains me to see it wasted.

My question is: How do we fix this? I'm all ears.