Killing our future

Wayne State University shocked many of my students last week by raising tuition almost 18 percent. That will make it difficult, if not impossible, for many of them to stay in school this fall. Without an eventual degree, they don't have a prayer of having the middle-class lifestyle most of their parents did.

But don't blame the university. Nor should you blame any of the state's other universities, all of which are enacting major tuition increases this fall.

The colleges can't help it. They have to pay their bills, and they got the shaft from the state. Someone does deserve blame, however: your state legislators, especially the Republicans. They are stealing our future.

Some of them are doing it mostly out of ignorance and stupidity. Some, including a lot of Democrats, are doing it out of cowardice. Others are cynically doing it because they care mostly about a few greedy multimillionaires, who they hope will reward them.

But all of them are literally destroying Michigan by cutting spending for education, pricing more and more of our young people out of any hope for a future. They tell you that the worst thing we could do is raise taxes. They've said that so long and so well, many of you even believe their lies and bullshit.

Nor are the legislators who know better, nor is the governor, doing a good enough job of standing up and speaking the truth and calling them on it.

If you are a student or a parent of a kid in college, or a kid you want to go to college, you should be screaming your head off. Right now.

Your elected representatives are lying to you. Those who keep cutting education and bleating "taxes are bad" really mean they don't want to raise taxes on the rich. By forcing universities to raise tuition, they are raising taxes on the poor.

They are raising taxes on the two groups in society that most deserve to be helped: families trying to put their kids through college, and the students themselves, who are struggling to pay tuition. We are forcing them to pay more for the degrees they will need to help this society out of a jam.

Even if they can pay the higher tuition, the schools are still being starved of money they need, and which we need to give them for our own good.

Deep down, our leaders mostly understand this, though some pretend not to. Everybody in the know also knows Michigan is doomed, unless we start turning out a far higher number of college graduates than we are now.

Unless we have a better-educated state, we can kiss any return to prosperity bye-bye, forever. Michigan is behind most other states in the percentage of the work force with college degrees. That's because, for years, high-school graduates could get good-paying metal-bending jobs on the assembly lines. Those days are as gone as the Plymouth.

And they will never come back.

Knowing that, the governor appointed a special commission to look at the education future. In December 2004, it concluded we had no choice but to double the number of our young people getting college degrees in the next 10 years. The state Legislature got that report, smiled and nodded — and cut aid to higher education, and cut it again and again.

Our governor whined a little ... and then went along, as she almost always does. So today we see creatures like Republican Craig DeRoche, the House minority leader, a 36-year-old suburban kid with a bachelor's degree from Central, hinting that the universities are spoiled and have too much money.

What's sad is that the ignorant may believe him. The truth is that we can't hope to attract the high-tech employers and the next generation of high-tech jobs unless we keep our research universities nationally competitive — Wayne State, Michigan State and most of all the University of Michigan.

Yet our term-limited legislators already have their degrees, and their connections. They don't care about those who don't. Their eyes are firmly fixed on their next job, and not on the future of those who elect them.

Want proof?

Michigan lawmakers "balanced" the current budget just before Memorial Day in the most disgraceful way possible. They sold off future proceeds from the tobacco settlement money. They transferred a shitload of the bills they were too gutless to pay to next year's budget.

And, worst of all, they again permanently cut aid to higher education by $26 million, and "deferred" $165 million in other payments due to the schools.

My first thought when I learned the details of that budget was that every legislator who voted for it should be shot. However, we are modern and civilized, and I might go to jail for saying that, so let me say instead that I think that each of them should be impeached and charged with criminal negligence.

Understandably, the state's universities don't believe for a minute that they are likely to get that promised-but-deferred money from this corrupt bunch of clowns. That's why the colleges and universities have had to raise tuition through the roof. Wayne State, in fact, officially "only" raised tuition 11.8 percent.

The rest is a "contingency fee" of $13 a credit hour. Students will get a break and they will drop that charge for the winter term, President Irvin Reid said, "if the state reimburses the university as promised," by Oct. 17.

Don't hold your breath. What our lawmakers should be doing is raising taxes and pouring the money into higher education and scholarships.

Every generation of Americans has hoped that their children would have better lives than they did. That is, until the present generation of greedheads.


A note on "conflict of interest": Yes, I can see the fingers twitching. "Well, of course Lessenberry wants taxes raised for higher education; he teaches full time at Wayne State." Yes, I do. And they pay me. Not very much, however, and not a very high percentage of my income.

Most of my income comes, in fact, from the private sector. Recently, I was offered an interesting six-figure full-time private sector job, which I turned down because I think teaching is a more socially valuable thing to do.

I do not need Wayne State University to pay the bills. Nor do I need it for medical coverage. I have no children whose future educations I have to worry about. I have a reasonable hope of a financially secure old age, which is approaching faster than I would like. I have no major complaints.

However — everything I have accomplished came as a result of higher education degrees earned right here, in Michigan. I was a poor kid with parents who lacked learning. The ability to get a higher education gave me a chance to succeed. Michigan is full of bright young people very much as I was then.

The difference is that now not only do they need an education — we need them to get one. Otherwise, no matter what the politicians say, the new employers and the new economy jobs won't be coming here.

If you think learning matters, it might be a good idea to let your state representative, state senator and Our Blessed Governor know how you feel.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]
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