E.J. Dionne on the Supreme Court, cable news and evangelicals
You've always carried a great affection for universities and the importance of higher education: How do think that the rising cost of education, mixed with the unstable employment numbers, will effect the job market in the next decade?
I think it's one of the biggest barriers to reducing inequality in the United States. The difficulty for people from families from modest means to get higher ed is going to increase inequality, unless we do something about it. I worry about this on a lot of levels: One is that if state universities become more expensive, more and more students have to use community colleges, which crowds the community colleges, which were always there for people who only needed them for one- or two-year degrees. Or people who were using them to put themselves into a position for higher ed.
I think this crisis is getting so bad that it is going to force us to look for new models for higher education. When I graduated from college in 1973, we were in a period when -- other than the GI Bill -- you had the broadest access [to higher education] across class lines. And because you had substantial student loans and scholarship programs, if you took on debt it wasn't crushing you for the rest of your life. And now the burden of debt is just unconscionable -- especially if people go to private colleges. And I don't think we can go on like this. I think the universities need to think through what they can do to solve this problem.
I often wonder that with all the leaps we are experiencing in technology and access to information, getting a degree won't be as essential in the future as it once was. Skills and employment will be achieved while bypassing this aging institution.
Well, when you see so many of the oldest, major universities developing online programs, I think you are going to see some major restructuring of higher education in the next twenty years. People who love universities -- as I do -- are going to want to figure out how you save the best of the great research universities, while still opening up opportunity to more people.
E.J. Dionne will be reading from Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent at 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 2, at Tattered Cover Colfax, 2526 East Colfax Avenue. This event is free; click here for more details.