The Trend Towards Privatization
Nate Enwald
nenwa128@uwsp.edu
In recent months, students have been bombarded with one news story after another about the economic downturn, budget lapses, tuition increases, Scott Walker controversies, and education cuts, without really being told how any of it translates into daily life.
 
At the end of the day, it ends up being a lot of information to disseminate, often leaving more questions than answers.
 
So what does it all mean? When you roll it all together it creates a trend that affects students of all ages across the country, the subtle and slow transition from state-funded educational establishments to privately funded schools.
 
State support for the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point in specific has seen a gradual yet massive decline in funding from the state government since the early 1970s.
 
“There are a lot of factors that explain that decline in public spending,” said Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Greg Summers. “The United States had this amazing period of prosperity following WWII that was unprecedented but in the 1970s that pretty much came to an end.”
 
Summers said that funding higher education in the ‘50s and ‘60s was relatively easy, but it has gotten more difficult for the government to keep up since then.
 
According to a presentation by Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Al Thompson, in 1972 UW-Stevens Point received 50 percent of all its income from the state of Wisconsin--today that number is down to only 17 percent.
 
The rest of UWSP’s operating income is coming from tuition; the less the state is able to cough up, the more economical burden is put on the private sector.
 
In other words, the difference is made up by the students, only further increasing the crushing student loan debts.
In a recent study by UW-Madison Professors Julie Underwood and Julie Mead, the argument is made that the trend of privatization is not completely by accident but rather, at least in Wisconsin, by design.
 
Their study puts some of the blame on the American Legislative Exchange Committee (ALEC), a group that has recently drawn criticism for acting as a corporate lobbying think-tank without actually registering as a lobbyist group, effectively allowing them to bypass state balancing laws.
 
In layman’s terms, ALEC is a group of highly funded, private individuals that secretly get laws passed to benefit their agenda, which—Mead and Underwood claim—is privatizing higher education.
 
As Mead and Underwood argue, “ALEC’s positions on various education issues make it clear that the organization seeks to undermine public education by systematically defunding and ultimately destroying public education as we know it.”
 
“I think the attention that ALEC has received is good but also alarming because what that suggests is that it’s not just economic factors beyond our control but a concerted effort for ideological reasons that undermine public education and public higher education in particular,” Summers said.
 
According to ALEC’s website, its “Task Forces have considered, written, and approved hundreds of model bills on a wide range of issues, model legislation that will frame the debate today and far into the future. Each year, close to 1,000 bills, based at least in part on ALEC Model Legislation, are introduced in the states.”