Funding Higher Education: The Search for Possibilities


The Campaign for the Future of Higher Education calls on America’s college & university faculty to join in the search for new ways to fund higher education

National Telephone News Briefing

Tuesday, February 12, 10 am Pacific/1 pm Eastern
Call (800) 553-0273  / Ask for “Campaign for the Future of Higher Education”

  • The three authors of working papers on new ways to fund higher education will explain their proposals and take questions from the news media, including campus reporters and education bloggers.
  • The briefing begins a drive by CFHE for faculty to step up our role in the search for new possibilities that will save access to higher education and strengthen our nation’s middle class.
  • The briefing takes place on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Lincoln signed the 1862 Morrill Act that initiated America’s public higher education system, starting with Land Grant Colleges. Today that system spans the nation but is on the road to elimination.

Contact: Lisa Cohen, 310-395-2544 or Alice Sunshine, 510-384-1967

For release February 6, 2013 — In the United States, quality public higher education was once accessible to most Americans able to benefit from it.

The way it worked was simple—taxpayers funded public colleges and universities sufficiently so that students who were prepared to work a few hours a week could complete their degrees in a relatively short time with a minimum amount of debt. For those with even greater need, government provided state grants and Pell grants.

This system worked well for decades and opened the door to opportunity for millions of Americans.

Now, we are told we can no longer afford this. We believe that is wrong.

The Campaign for the Future of Higher Education has begun a drive to involve our nation’s college and university faculty in the search for better solutions than funding cuts, privatization, soaring tuition and academic shut-downs.

Our nation has arrived at our current quandary for a variety of reasons. One is surely a failure of imagination, a set of assumptions that profoundly limits our ability to think about possibilities.

Three working papers released by the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education aim at stimulating a more thoughtful, fact-based, national conversation about paying for higher education in this country.

Three Ideas to Fund Higher Education In America

Two of the CFHE working papers address the common assumption that funding higher education through public means rather than through skyrocketing tuition is simply impossible.

One explores the notion of free higher education and examines what the actual cost to provide such an ideal would be. Bob Samuels, a University of California faculty member in San Diego, argues we could make big strides towards free public higher education by reallocating current governmental expenditures for higher education and by eliminating regressive tax breaks.

The second paper, using the state of California as a test case, looks at the real magnitude of returning to recent, more adequate levels of state funding for higher education. Stanton Glantz, a professor at UC San Francisco, describes that “reseting” higher education funding to more adequate past levels would require only very small adjustments in the median income tax return.

The third paper explores a currently unused tax revenue source that could be tapped if there were the political will to provide adequate public funding for higher education. Rudy Fichtenbaum, an economics professor at Wright State University in Ohio and national president of the American Association of University Professors, explains how to achieve vastly improved funding for higher education through a miniscule tax on selected financial transactions.

Members of the news media, including campus/student reporters and bloggers on education issues, are invited to a news briefing on Tuesday, February 12 (10 am Pacific/1 pm Eastern) to hear a short discussion by the three authors and to ask them questions about their proposals.

To join the call:

  • Call (800) 553-0273  / Ask for “Campaign for the Future of Higher Education”
  • You may dial up to 5 minutes before the start time

To see the papers in advance:

PLEASE NOTE: The CFHE web address will change on Sunday, February 10. After that time, you can see the papers at

These working papers are meant to encourage discussion, foster debate, and generate action. We invite faculty members and higher education supporters, particularly those with direct experience in America’s classrooms with students, to add thoughts about these models and ideas about others through the comment section of the CFHE website.

We also invite you to post on the CFHE Facebook page at and to follow CFHE on Twitter @FutureofHE or using #FutureofHE.


We must provide the advanced education needed to sustain our economy and to undergird our democracy. America is not broke, and these creative ideas show that we can afford to keep the doors of opportunity wide open. Indeed, we cannot afford to shut them.

It is unfortunate for our nation that leaders and policy-makers are giving up the dream of affordable public higher education for Americans. The door into the middle class is slamming shut for those who want to rise and the position of middle-class Americans and their children is shaky, at best.

In place of the tested and successful engine of opportunity—state colleges and universities—corporate reformers are calling for privatization, higher tuition, and even shuttering traditional colleges for middle-class and working Americans.

Millions who persist in pursuing college confront enormous debt that will shackle them for the rest of their lives, threatening our national economy on a scale equal to the home loan debacle.

Saddest of all, few who are calling for this brave new world of higher education are considering a lesser education for their own children. Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and many flagship public universities will remain in place for elites to enjoy. Rather, this lesser education will be reserved for those who cannot afford an increasingly rationed liberal arts curriculum.

And yes, the need is immediate and urgent. Consider this report published in the February 2012 issue of Postsecondary Education Opportunity, ominously titled “The Race to Zero.” This report takes historical data on state spending and projects future state expenditures for higher education based on that data.

The study finds that if current trends in funding public higher education continue, in 2022 Colorado will be the first state to hit zero funding for higher education. Alaska will follow in 2027. More than a dozen other states will hit zero by 2050. California will reach zero funding for public higher education in 2052. By 2100, state support for higher education will zero out in 24 other states, leaving roughly 10 states with continued support.

The “new normal” myth driving this trend is based on the lie that there is no money to fund public higher education and the misguided notion that students should be responsible for their own education because they benefit the most from it.

While CFHE takes no position on these proposals, we do believe that the current trend of publicly defunding higher education is an educational crisis that needs our attention.

Until we as a nation entertain options other than privatization of public higher education, which has reaped gigantic profits for edu-businesses but massive debt and dashed dreams for millions of Americans, we will not solve the problem.

We do not pretend to have exhausted all possibilities with these papers. We urgently need a national conversation about one, whether we want to head in the direction that “new normal” politics is taking us, and two, what better ideas can help us do the best possible job as we address changes in our society and our nation.

In reality, everyone benefits from an educated population and America has prospered more when excellent public higher education was affordable. These papers, we hope, will start a discussion about alternative models to fund higher education in our nation.