Since a good education provides people with a significant amount of opportunity, many families view an investment in higher education as something that can be very beneficial. Unfortunately, rising tuition costs have placed a much higher burden on families with one or more people in college. Michael Birnbaum wrote a piece for the Washington Post yesterday which discussed how this has resulted in many students having to make decisions on where they’ll attend college based upon the tuition costs.
With many of the examples that he used, the students were at the top of their classes in high school and were considering attending out of state or private colleges which would have resulted in absolutely enormous amounts of debt. While I can feel for these students and I appreciate the fact that Birnbaum even wrote an article on the topic of tuition increases, the article was making it sound like it was a horrible thing to attend one of Virginia’s public colleges or universities. The article opened up, for instance, with a reference to students who Birnbaum claimed would have to “dial down their dreams” and “[sign] up with cheaper George Mason University.” He then went on to imply that Virginia Tech was the second choice for engineering students.
As a graduate of George Mason University I take issue with this portrayal. Not only do I take pride in the high quality education I received at Mason, but this clearly ignores the fact that schools like GMU have been receiving national recognition. Mason, for instance, was named the number one school in US News and World Report’s “Up and Coming” category -- ahead of other schools on the list like Clemson and Drexel. Other Virginia public schools such as Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia have also been considered among the top schools in other categories for years.
In addition to clearly insulting Virginia’s institutions of higher learning that have been receiving national recognition, I think Birnbaum’s article completely missed an excellent opportunity to have a productive discussion about the costs of higher education. You see, even with the excellent colleges that we have right here in Virginia there are some families who cannot afford to pay the cost of in-state tuition. This is in part because schools have to increase their tuition due to the fact that they aren’t receiving the funding from other sources that they need. An article that looked into possible ways to increase funding to our schools could have been a useful way of showing what could be done to help students in the future.
The article also could have provided a resource for students if it hadn’t been so set on casting Virginia’s school as second choices, but actually helping to illustrate how students could get the best bang for their buck when receiving a higher education. The article, for instance, could have mentioned how Virginia’s community college system provides students with a high quality education at a significantly lower rate than some of the four year institutions. By attending a community college for their first two years and then transferring to a school like George Mason, students can receive a very good education and also save some money. The community college system can also be used by students who might not be able to afford a four year degree, but want to receive an Associate Degree that will provide them some skills necessary for the 21st Century job market. Of course, none of these options were discussed in the article.
Drawing attention to the rising costs of a higher education is a good thing, but doing it in a way that doesn’t offer solutions and insults the high quality schools we have in Virginia actually results in doing a disservice to readers. In the future, I hope that we see more articles that actually discuss potential solutions rather than simply insulting local organizations that are working hard to provide students with the best education possible.