Cuts to Education
By: Zayn Roohi
I remember the moment I graduated high school. Just like every other student, I was excited to move on with my life and see what happens. Even more than that, I was excited to be out of a place where the quality of my education was based on money, money the school system simply didn’t have. I was led to believe that in college there would be more money for education. The professors would be paid well enough to care about their classes, there would be a wide range of majors to select from and students would be presented with an array of opportunities to help them find what they want to do with their life.
This is not the case.
When the legislature announced that UAF is facing a $30 million dollar budget shortfall, it was clear that something was going to be cut. This led to Chancellor Rogers announcing that there are 46 programs up for review, with the goal of cutting $3 million out of them. He has also announced that he expects between 200 and 250 jobs to be lost. The Senate even recently rejected a pay raise for adjunct professors.
According to Abel Bult-Ito, president of the UA system union, these cuts will first affect the support systems, such as the student advisors. As these support systems disappear, the quality of education will decrease. In early 2013 I made a documentary for KTVA 11 on this very subject. Andy Holleman, Anchorage Educators Association President told me one very chilling fact, as the funding decreases, experienced educators will move to places with more opportunities, and will be replaced by people who simply don’t care as much.
“There’s a larger opportunity for faculty in the lower 48,” Bult-Ito said. “If we’re not careful, we’ll lose them; if we don’t fund it [education], we’ll fall behind.” These effects can already be seen now. Walk into almost any 100 level class, and you’ll find bored students who are being taught by a professor who doesn’t particularly want to be there. I learned more during high school American history than I have so far in History 100X. But this all has even deeper implications. In a society where education is not free for all, or valued by any, a few people at the top will be able to do what they want.
“Education is becoming an elite enterprise for only the students that can afford it,” Bult-Ito said. Many Americans brush this off as a simple matter of economics. They think that there is simply not enough money, so we can’t fund education. They think that colleges waste money on pointless things like new gym buildings or, in UAF’s case, a new engineering building.
But there is enough money.
Under Senate Bill 21, the state of Alaska will give away an estimated $1.4 billion dollars to non-Alaskan oil companies in 2015. I’m sure the state could somehow manage to only give away $1.3 billion dollars, and keep the other $100 million for the UA system. There’s also the option of not giving away any money at all. According to the legislature, we don’t even have enough money for the film incentive program, a program that cost a fraction of SB 21, and would have given tax breaks to major film companies who promised to spend money only with Alaska companies.
The real problem is that the people who decide the budget don’t care much about education, film, or many other things besides oil. The Alaskan education lobby doesn’t have nearly as much to offer to the legislature when compared to the oil lobby, which spent an estimated $200 million nationwide in 2014. Money is power, and their money lets them do whatever they want. “It’s more important to please multinational oil companies than to do what’s good for your own people,” Bult-Ito said. An article by the Chronicle of Higher Education details this same thing happening in South Carolina. When faced with a one-cent income sales tax, the auto industry fought with everything they had, and ended up changing that tax increase to a cap. This cap cost the state $169 million in 2014 alone, a sum which could restore most of the cuts made to public colleges since 2008, according to the Chronicle.
I’m not saying that we live in a corrupt democracy where the richest companies do what they want, or even that these companies are trying to steal our education away and turn us into modern-age slaves. But with a literacy rate of only 86 percent, and 17th place on Transparency International’s corruption index (only 10 places in front of Qatar), it’s clear there’s something going on. There is something wrong with our system. The system should not be such that money can be taken out of education and instead given to companies who already have billions of dollars, especially not when 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read.
It shouldn’t be such that the military is funded in place of schools, when 50 percent of American schools are labeled as ‘failing schools’ by the U.S. Board of Education. Funding major oil companies in order to keep our economy growing is important. Protecting America from international terror threats is important. I’m also just an idealistic college student who spends too much time thinking about things I probably don’t understand. But maybe we should learn to expect more from our education system. Maybe it’s time for change.