Chris Wright
for Governor

Please allow me to address the issue of Education and Tuition-Free Higher Education

In my view, Minnesota must treat education as a human right essential to the exercise of an effective democracy.

At all levels of education the teaching of critical thinking is paramount. Without the moral values of truth, fairness and objectivity, in a question driven society trained in critical thinking, a democratic government cannot endure nor be reformed. In our age of alternative facts—the rise of  folks who believe fake news , like “climate-change-is-a-hoax,” and the equally stupid “Post-Modernist-politically-correct” pseudoscientists, apparently, critical thinking is not in short supply--because there is no supply.

What if there was an education system that works well; applies the best American education research; has the best trained teachers; has the highest high school graduation rate; and provides education free of charge cradle to college and doesn’t spend any more than we do, would you vote for it? They do in Finland and they’re the best educated folks on earth.  So, why argue with success? 

 A licensed teacher in Finland must possess a master’s degree and must be selected from the top ten percent of their class, but everyone receives their education tuition-free. Education is a guaranteed Constitutional right in Finland. From cradle to college, trade school to displaced worker retraining, everybody gets education based on their abilities and special needs. Finland provides before and after school care until age ten based on a family’s ability to pay and with teachers that possess at least a bachelor’s degree. Finland has a high school graduation rate of 99-percent and a high school dropout rate of 1-percent. Finland has approximately the same population as Minnesota. Finland spends $13,865 per pupil.

By contrast, a licensed teacher in Minnesota must possess a bachelor’s degree and pays his own tuition. Minnesota has no Constitutional right to education free of charge. In Minnesota you’re lucky to get a scholarship grant.  Daycare in Minnesota comes at a premium price and you don’t have to have a bachelor’s degree to get hired. Minnesota’s high school graduation rate is 82.7-percent and our dropout rate is 1.9-percent. Obviously, we have some catching up to do, but if I have my way, Minnesota will have the most educated folks on earth, not Finland.

In his book, “Why Public Higher Education Should Be Free,” author Robert Samuels added up the average cost of tuition, room and board in 2010. For undergraduates at public four-year institutions it was $14,870 for 6.4 million full-time undergraduates; at two-year public colleges, it was $7,629 for 4.3 million enrolled in community colleges. When he multiplied the number of students in each segment of public higher education he found that the cost of making all public universities free would have been $95 billion in the 2009-2010 school year and $33 billion for all community colleges; a total of $128 billion. And while $128 billion seems like a staggering figure, the federal government spent in 2010 $35 billion for Pell Grants and $104 billion on student loans. The states spent at least $10 billion on financial aid and another $76 billion for direct support of higher education. And when you consider all the state and federal tax breaks that only benefit the wealthy, you realize that it is possible to make all public higher education free just with current spending amounts. By lowering the amount spent on administrative bloat, housing, dining, amenities, research, and graduate education, all undergraduate education could be free.

At a minimum, minus federal funding, the state can and should provide a two-year tuition-free higher education which includes trade school.

Without education that is free of charge there can be no equality of opportunity if only the rich can rise to their full potential. We need to guarantee an equal opportunity for everyone to receive educational services in accordance with their ability and special needs as well.

Thomas Jefferson believed that education should be provided, “at the common expense of all.”

Student debt has reached crisis proportions in this country. American student loan debt has surpassed $1.53 trillion dollars and has produced a generation of indentured students. https:\\www.federalreserve.gov/releases/g19/current/default.htm

Despite rising tuition costs, the shocking truth is that only 10% of University budgets are spent on directly educating students.

A big contributor to high tuition costs has been state funding cuts. As a result undergraduates pay more in tuition and receive less instruction. To reduce costs universities increasingly rely on large class sizes, part-time teachers, and graduate student instructors. In fact, undergraduates end up subsidizing the other functions of the university that are unrelated to undergraduate instruction.

Twenty-five years ago, 75% of the faculty had secure jobs and now 75% of teachers have part-time jobs often without benefits. Not only do institutions rely on the exploitation of part-time labor, but they rely on interns, students, student getting internships or students working at the colleges for very low rates; sometimes without pay.

This labor model has transformed not only faculty, but other types of jobs at our colleges. It exploits graduate students who often train to be professors, but act as part-time teachers to afford their doctoral degrees. Afterwards, graduate students often can’t find jobs, only to end up as part-time labor. In fact, the whole system of labor at universities ends up producing insecure part-time jobs with no benefits and no academic freedom or control of their work.

These low-wage jobs have an impact on student learning. Part-time teachers can’t teach effectively, can’t meet students after class or write letters of recommendation. Because they’re running between jobs, they have little time to spend grading papers.

Meanwhile, as administrative bloat keeps expanding, undergraduate instruction is short-changed. More administrators and staff are needed to run graduate education, law schools, medical schools, professional education, gigantic research facilities, large athletic programs, overseeing venture capital enterprises, and community service programs. You need administrators to watch over the other administrators and computer staff to compile the data to give to the staff, to allow them to give the first group of administrators the information they need to watch over the second group and a whole set of people to see that everyone is following state and federal guidelines until it spirals our to control.

In the not-so-distant past, faculty professors performed administrative duties. Today the administrative foxes are guarding the henhouse and they ignore the expert knowledge of the powerless faculty. Administrators have no motivation to rein in themselves, the only ones who could, because they profit from maintaining the status quo. That has to change.

So, how can we change this downward spiral, rein in the administrative class, empower the faculty, and return to the core mission of instruction and research?

How about direct conditional funding for public higher education?

Let’s replace the current mix of financial aid lost to tax credits, tax subsidies, grants, institutional aid, tax deductions, and tax shelters with direct funding for public institutions. This would provide the government a way to control the costs at both public and private higher education. By doing away with our unjust tax system we could stop the movement of public funds to expensive private and for-profit universities and colleges. Tax deductions are nothing more than tax shelters for the wealthy because many low-income families pay little if any income taxes.

If “Conditional Funding” provided tuition-free higher education, stabilized faculty jobs, directly funded instructional costs, and reduced class sizes, without adding to costs, would you vote for it?

It is the obligation of the State to impose rules and conditions upon how its money is spent; not the colleges. I propose that State funding be provided only on the condition that, number One, public colleges shall maintain 75% of their faculty as full-time; Two, 50% of capital shall be spent on direct instructional costs; and Three, no more than 25% of classes shall have more than 25 students.

A 75% full-time faculty would cut down on turnover and the need to hire and manage part-time teachers. Let’s allow full-time faculty members to participate in faculty senates and serve on departmental committees; which would reduce the workload on professors. At that point, faculty would have the time to take on tasks such as student advising, reducing the need for an army of expensive administrators.

Let’s end the charade of creative accounting and let’s get an audit of our educational institutions. Instead of publishing disaggregate calculations on actual undergraduate costs colleges use false and misleading methods of calculation, like lumping together graduate instruction, research, facilities, services, administration, etc.  We should calculate direct instructional costs separately from non-instructional costs; like the cost of classrooms, buildings, heating, staff, equipment, and central administration. Therefore, I propose that the legislative auditor investigate the true cost of undergraduate education at the University of Minnesota and our State Colleges. The legislature should demand transparent accounting that allows the state to better calculate its spending per student.

To rein in administrative bloat, we should determine the optimum ratio of Administration to students and reasonable compensation for those services.

Because there is no accepted uniform method of rating standards for colleges virtually anywhere, I propose that the legislature create an Office of College Rating Standards with the mission of rating and ranking all Minnesota colleges based on a measure of student learning and teacher effectiveness.

And finally, Let’s End the Privatization of Higher Education.

There was a time when college administration was the job of the faculty. Today, public universities have been privatized and no longer serve a public mission; instead , they often operate like large corporations. Administrators with little or no training in education run schools as if the goal was to increase compensation for the people at the top, while the vast majority of the teachers and workers are paid poverty-level wages. The move to online classes is a privatizing factor and public universities are adopting many of these rote learning educational strategies that for-profit schools use. The only way to stop this privatization of a public function is to make public higher education free.

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