Part 2: Alabama's deficit is The University of Alabama's problem, too

Last week, I explained how Alabama’s tax system and state constitution collects the least in taxes per capita and earmarks 90 percent of taxes collected. Because the state collects so little and is handcuffed in how they distribute the revenue, areas of public service like education, mental health and public infrastructure are woefully underfunded. For example, since 2008 funding for both primary and higher education has been drastically cut. This partially explains the annual rise in tuition for The University of Alabama system – increases also seen across the nation. Yet there are additional consequences besides just the price tag of 
the Capstone.

The most visible consequence is that The University of Alabama is now majority out-of-state students with current trends perpetuating the rise in out-of-state attendance. Simply put, the pool of academically qualified students capable of succeeding is already small in Alabama and shrinking every year, whereas the pool of such students outside of Alabama is much, much larger. In fact, in 2013, according to the ACT, 38,122 Alabama high school graduates took the ACT and only 20 percent met college readiness measures in all four ACT subjects – that’s roughly 7,624 students in Alabama who scored at least a 21 on the ACT. Let’s say those kids who took the ACT in 2013 entered the University in fall 2014. Hold on, though: the freshman class of 2014 consisted of 6,856 students with an average ACT score of 26.1. So not every qualified Alabama high school student could even attend the University, let alone stay and succeed here. The future isn’t much brighter for future in-state attendance rates since Alabama’s primary education funding has been slashed severely over the past few years and will continue to be slashed, thereby producing fewer academically qualified Alabama high school graduates capable of admittance at The University of Alabama.

So the University, “The Capstone of Higher Education,” will be the University for and of every other state. Alabama’s leaders should be worried because the state desperately needs intelligent, knowledge based workers that can bring 21st century business to a 20th century state. Perhaps some kids from California and Dallas – and even kids from Alabama – will stay in Alabama and do great things, but a majority of kids will likely return home or seek employment outside the state. The leaders in Alabama cannot seriously bank on the roll of a di0e or the whim of a recent University of Alabama graduate.

What is more troubling about all the cuts is not the future demographics of The University of Alabama, but what its purpose and mission will be. Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a far-right politician, recently cut $300 million over two years in funding for the University of Wisconsin campuses. The scarier part is that he proposed changes to the University of Wisconsin’s 110-year-old mission statement – the so-called Wisconsin Idea. He removed “the search for truth” and put in a line about meeting “the state’s workforce needs.” He disregarded the idea of a university existing for “educating people and improving the human condition” in favor of believing a university is about training workers for the state. Just work, don’t think – it’s good for the state.

He eventually restored the edits to the mission statement after immense national backlash, but left the cuts intact. He is the first to attempt to dismantle the national model of education that taught our parents and grandparents how to develop thoughtfulness. I’m afraid he will not be the last. Let’s all hope Alabama’s politicians do not attempt the same to our university.

Currently, the state of Alabama and Governor Bentley are asking leaders across the state to raise taxes. But the history of deep cuts in education are already creating ripple effects that are visible on campus and that the state will reap for years to come. Alabama’s state motto is “We dare defend our rights,” but we dare not defend the right to a quality education for all Alabamians. After all, we just can’t afford it.

Patrick Crowley is a senior majoring in mathematics, finance and economics. He is the Opinions Editor of The Crimson White.

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