Higher education is essential and worth its state funding

 At The University of Alabama, we are enjoying a period of growth and expansion that has never been seen in our school’s history. Since 2007, our student body has increased in size by about 10,000 to over 36,000, and over half of the University’s students are from places other than Alabama. While a larger student body may not seem like a great thing when you are late to class and sitting in stand-still traffic, the diversity of perspectives and experiences people bring here are nothing but beneficial to the University.

Look around campus. Between all the construction cranes and sorority mansions, one can’t help but notice that we attend class in some of the most beautiful and up-to-date 
buildings at any university, and the colleges housed inside those building are climbing up the educational rankings. Our state’s flagship university is becoming something to be very proud of. In short, we are making immense progress at a time when higher education is more important than ever before. That is why we should do everything we can to keep it this way, including preventing a disturbing national trend from making its way to Alabama.

Last week in Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker announced a $300 million budget cut in aid to The University of Wisconsin system, which encompasses 26 campuses and will see its state funding cut by nearly 10 percent. In a state that has been slow to come out of the recession, cutting the budget of the UW system to pay for an array of deep tax cuts and a $220 
million publicly-funded arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, among other things, is irresponsible and foolish. The cuts will likely cause faculty 
layoffs and a slowdown in progress.

Similar cuts were recently made to California’s public university system and these types of cuts are emblematic of a nationwide trend. In 2003, state funding made up a third of public universities’ revenue, but this number dropped to 23 percent by 2012 and student tuition now outweighs it. In the past five years, tuition at public universities has risen as much as 70 percent, in part because of budget policies like those seen in Wisconsin.

A public university system is an important investment in the future of the state. Affordable, high-quality higher education allows students from all backgrounds to improve their standing, which will improve Alabama’s standing in the world economy. By cutting school budgets at the expense of the working class, state legislators do a disservice to their constituents.

To prevent this trend from exacerbating our own tuition problem, we need to pay attention to our leaders and where their priorities lie. In Alabama, it seems that tax cuts for corporations like Mercedes-Benz and Airbus are sometimes more important than tuition, which has ballooned to almost $10,000 for in-state students, an increase of over 100 percent since 2006.

The University of Alabama is flourishing because of the work of students and faculty members, and keeping this progress going requires us to hold our leaders accountable. Political leaders respond to public pressure. Let them know that an educated workforce in Alabama is worth more than another tax break for a corporation.

Kyle Simpson is a sophomore majoring in biology. His column 
runs biweekly.

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