Dim future awaits education

By Vickie Snow

A gloomy future awaits Illinois higher education unless some trends do an immediate about-face.

That’s what three university officials told about 30 university professors, students and other representatives attending Thursday’s panel discussion on the future and funding of higher education. The open forum was sponsored by NIU‘s Social Science Research Institute as part of a series exploring upcoming issues of the 21st century.

Board of Regents Chancellor Roderick Groves, one of the panelists, said competition for funding between public and private universities will grow.

“It’s always rather intimidating to peer into a crystal ball,” Groves said. He focused instead on the evident trend toward privatization.

With fewer and fewer dollars aimed toward public higher education, it is difficult to retain the basis of public education—quality education at a low cost.

Groves said he sees no expansion of public funding in the future and there is a need for a “renewed, not reduced, commitment to higher education.”

Panelist William Monat, NIU regency professor for public administration, agreed that public/private competition will become more intense.

As education becomes less affordable, it becomes less public, Monat said.

“We need to preserve the public character of public universities,” he said.

The third panelist focused on whether higher education should be considered a right or a privilege.

Michael Bakalis, a professor at Loyola University and a former state superintendent, said the higher education sector faces a change like that of the elementary and secondary schools decades ago.

He said attending colleges and universities might eventually be thought of as a right and not a privilege.

“Universities will be asked to be more accountable than ever before,” Bakalis said. For example, grade schools must publish report cards that show their performance.

In order to expect more support from taxpayers, they need to know how higher education relates to the direction of this country over the next decade, he said.

“Illinois taxpayers are some of the most tight fisted,” Groves said.

“Demand (for college education) is growing high and state support is running low,” he said.

After the panelists spoke, audience members asked questions on topics such as remedial education, research versus teaching responsibilities and tuition.

The regency system governs NIU, Illinois State University in Normal and Sangamon State University in Springfield.