Accessibility and Desire

Another new study on higher education, this one a survey of public attitudes towards colleges, done by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. I just read about it in the New York Times, and I'm sure all major papers are reporting its findings. A growing number of Americans (55%) view college as essential to future success, while a declining number (28%) view college as accessible to those who are qualified and want to attend. What concerns me is the second number, because I believe it reflects what used to be referred to as an "image problem". Are high school guidance counselors not doing their jobs? Yes, higher education can be very expensive. Tuition, room and board at Dickinson is now over $50,000 a year! Those are the kinds of numbers that get the headlines. We should keep in mind that the families who pay the full amount are in the top few percent of the population in terms of income. Yes, financing a higher education can be quite stressful, and some families do get squeezed, but the way financial aid works, higher education is available at reasonable cost to just about everyone. (Tuition at most colleges keeps going up, and up, and up, but mainly to keep abreast of the ever increasing need for financial aid. It's the rich subsidizing the not so rich. And let's not forget health care. At Dickinson, which is self-insured and makes big efforts to keep these costs in check, in spite of employees making bigger contributions, health insurance eats up a bigger and bigger percentage of the budget year after year. It's simply unsustainable.) Yet, I believe, the situation will get better. But it might get a lot worse before it gets better. I look at this mainly from a minority perspective, that of the liberal arts college, a kind of institution that makes up only 5-10% of higher education overall. Public higher education faces particular challenges. Look at the mess they're in in California.
I find myself becoming more interested in the world of free and open education. I have a folder in my bookmarks, "Mark's Learning Resources", and just a mouse click away are treasures of great worth. And I've only put in minimal effort so far in seeking out resources. Check out, for example, Academic Earth, the University Channel, or Open Culture. In the photo, the auditorium of the Rose Lehman Arts Center at Harrisburg Area Community College. Full-time tuition at HACC for area residents is $1400 a semester. That's a deal!