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Our Nation Still at Risk

August 8, 2013
By GENE BUDIG & ALAN HEAPS , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

School is out. No one wants to think about serious issues including the quality of American education. After all, it's summer. It's a time of carefree optimism and joy. As the American poet William Carlos William said, "In summer, the song sings itself."

Unfortunately, in this increasingly connected world, reality has a way of coming to the fore regardless of the season. Through the Internet, television, radio and our social circles, we are sent constant reminders of the daily individual and social challenges we face.

One such intrusion happened in June with the publication of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's annual Education at a Glance Report. (OECD is a coalition of 34 countries - including the United States and most of the developed nations - created to "promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.")

Here are three of their findings:

As if the data themselves were not depressing enough, there is one other tragedy embedded in the report: we have heard it all before but have refused to heed the warning. For more than 30 years, since the publication of the groundbreaking report, "A Nation At Risk," we have been told time and again about our neglected schools and colleges.

Look at the following facts: According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, states are spending 28 percent less per student on higher education than they did in 2008; all but two states are spending less per student on higher education than they did prior to the recession; and 11 states have cut funding by more than one-third per student, and two states have cut their higher education spending per student in half.

You wouldn't know about these trends by looking at some of our politicians. Governors love their state colleges and universities, especially in the fall when they buddy up to the mass of voters at collegiate football games on Saturday afternoons.

Too many of them say the right things about the need for higher education, but too few go to battle for it; when it comes to action, their words too often have the impact of a falling feather.

But this story has one last twist. It is we the people who elect the governors and many of their fellow politicians. To shift the full burden of blame onto them is both unproductive and immature. Ultimately, it is each of us who must take on the responsibility of spreading the word about what this nation needs to do and where we spend our precious dollars. That is what responsible citizens and grown-ups do.

We ignore the data on education at our own risk. The clock is ticking. As Eddard "Ned" Stark says in A Game of Thrones, "Summer will end soon enough, and childhood will end."

Budig is past president/chancellor of three major state universities (Illinois State University, West Virginia University, and the University of Kansas). Heaps is a former vice president of the College Board in New York City.

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