As the son of a university professor, I was raised with the implicit understanding of the value of higher education. We did not ever sit around the dinner table and argue about whether or not what students learned was worth the investment to society at large.
While spared this debate over Sunday roast, I’m now fully engaged in it with two recent projects. I wrote an annual report for an East Coast university and I am in the process of negotiating to write a series of alumni profiles for a well-known Western art and design college, which will be used on its website, in publications and in press releases.
In both cases, the learning institutions are seeking to counter dwindling government support by making well-reasoned economic justifications for their importance to the local and national economies.
The University of New Brunswick prides itself on the entrepreneurial values it imparts students. Many of its graduates who have started successful businesses and it has successfully monetized much of the fine research it does. On the other side of the country, the art and design college is responding continued government cutbacks to its funding by showing how its grads are contributing to the province’s economy, with their successful careers and businesses.
Apparently, it’s not enough to be creative and recognized; you have to help with province’s bottom line.
Of course, the universities and colleges are responding in a black-and white language that governments can understand. What a university contributes to a society’s intellectual discourse about pressing social, cultural, business, political, etc. issues is equally important but hard to put a price tag on.
The result of the government funding cutbacks is to make students pay for more of their own education, often saddling them with massive loans. The debt can follow grads deep into their working lives and cause severe financial hardship and even bankruptcy if their careers don’t go as planned.
They are all too aware of the cost of not properly funding university education.