Prall: Branstad’s education plan is near-sighted


SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Gov. Terry Branstad recently announced a plan for higher-education reform in Iowa that includes a proposal to cap tuition for students in popular majors to a flat $10,000. While helping certain students, this is a near-sighted plan with good intentions. Taking a step back, let’s look at the bigger picture and the possible unintended consequences.

Tuition prices are a major (pun intended) problem in the United States. We students have a hard time making ends meet in an environment in which the costs are growing, our incomes are stagnant, and our job prospects after graduation are often hazy at best. Education reform is welcome, and needed, if the United States wants to compete in the global market and stay at the edge of ingenuity.

That being said, a tuition cap on the most common majors would be detrimental for students, universities, and the state.

Diversification yields high rewards, especially in the form of innovations. Innovation pushes the economy to grow. Education pushes the brain to innovate. Certain kinds of education are better at doing that than others. When universities invest time and money to create new, cutting-edge programs that are highly specialized, they won’t be for everyone. That can be a good thing, a very good thing. Specialization and diversification, hand in hand, offer a highly skilled workforce with new ideas to improve everything from playwriting to cancer research. Capping tuition on certain standard majors would discourage universities from exploring emerging fields, as the incentives to do what has always been done would increase dramatically. This stranglehold on new ideas and specialized education would reduce the ability, skill set, and ingenuity of Iowa’s educated workforce as a whole.

There’s a reason the common majors are so common. Biology, chemistry, engineering, business — these are all fundamental to society. Tuition caps on these subjects would relieve those who pursue these degrees, yes, but at what cost? Expect an increase in supply and a decrease in demand for those coming out of these fields. Also expect a decline in sub-fields in them, whether it be neuroscience or virology, as well as within the humanities. Lastly, expect a decrease in passion.

Professors teach and students learn more effectively when passion is in the equation. Passion is what captures the imagination, what pushes students to excel and to reach new heights. If students feel financial pressure to pigeonhole themselves into what everyone else is doing, they are less likely to find (and to follow) their passions in life. The best of our society are passionate for their fields. In almost every field, passion sets apart the good from the great — think doctors, lawyers, managers, athletes, writers, and artists. Important positions in society that are less sought after would also suffer from initiatives that ignore smaller subjects, such as social work, dietetics, horticulture, and theology. Often, these are the degrees that will have the highest deficit between cost and return on investment.

Education reform is needed, and it is needed badly. It is encouraging to see these things being talked about as real possibilities. That being said, we can’t let the necessity rush us into making poor long-term decisions. Suffice to say that Branstad has good intentions. Unfortunately, they are often a key ingredient when paving the road to hell.

In today's issue:

Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.