North Carolina is facing a massive budget deficit and as a result all government institutions are looking at making some rather large cuts to their budgets. The state's education system is no exception, and while people are rightly focusing on job cuts at the K-12 level, as the father of a high school senior, junior and freshman I'm more than a little interested in what's happening at the higher ed level.
Over the past weekend I sat with my son as he sent in applications to five North Carolina institutions of higher learning. I, of course, provided the one tool he needed: ye old credit card. A few keystrokes on the computer and couple of hundred bucks in application fees later he'd submitted his applications and the waiting game is on. Sure I'm excited, but I'm also filled with trepidation as I see stories about potential cutbacks at the schools he's applying to, including NC State.
Don't get me wrong, I don't think it's the end of the world. I know at least one retired professor who thinks higher education is reaping what it sowed over the years and that maybe the current crisis is providing a much-needed house cleaning for the industry. I'm also of the belief that the benefit of someone's education is more dependent on that person's input than on the class size he's encountering, but that doesn't change the fact that a professor's ability to do his job is directly impacted by the number of students he has to teach. And then there's the issue that Patrick Eakes brings up in a comment at Ed Cone's blog referencing the NC State article mentioned above:
It was already hard enough to graduate at State on time for some technical degrees when I was there. Undergrad engineering degrees required about 17 hours per semester, often with required labs that offered no or almost no credit hours toward that goal.
It was also pretty challenging to get the few sections offered in some classes to sequence properly semester after semester. Reductions in class offerings will almost certainly officially turn the engineering degrees into what they have unofficially been for some time – a five year degree.
Patrick makes a great point, although I must say I didn't need any help turning myself into a five year degree guy…in English Lit!
As far as tuition goes I'd love for my kids to enjoy the low current tuition rates, but even with the proposed tuition hikes I think the students lucky enough to get into North Carolina's public universities are getting a pretty good deal. That's assuming, of course, that they don't become professional students and stay in school until their 30, move home, live in the basement and play Xbox Live for 18 hours a day while eating Twinkies. That vision of my own kids' future, however unlikely, is my newest recurring nightmare.