Beggar Thy Neighbor: Underfunding Public Education

In economics, a beggar thy neighbor policy involves one country fixing their economic problems by making some other country’s problems worse. President Obama just told G-7 countries it is what shouldn’t be done in a slowing global economy. We don’t like it when China manipulates their currency or Japan uses tariffs to their advantage. It is just not neighborly.

But at home, beggar thy neighbor is exactly what we do with public education funding.

Take public universities around the country like CUNY.

States have reduced their spending on these institutions by as much as 17% per student, while tuition continues to rise, on average 33% the NYT reports.

Underfunding public higher education is a direct hit on the most disadvantaged. Though these are the very people that most need education to climb out of poverty, they will have the most roadblocks thrown in their way.

30% of CUNY students work more than 20 hours a week. For them, college is not a four-year party. It is a ladder, hopefully to a job and economic security.

I have deep connections to public universities like CUNY. Many members of my family are CUNY grads. When they speak of CUNY, it is with great reverence. It is a “dream factory,” as amazing as America itself. Where else could the son of a truck mechanic become the first in his family to attend college?

Today, the NYT reports on how that dream is stalling. If we beggar our neighbors, through underfunding of public education, in the end, we only harm ourselves.

If there was no CUNY, many otherwise bright and talented individuals would have gone without college. The world would be poorer for that.

Consider this list of CUNY graduates:

  • Colin Powell
  • Ed Koch
  • Henry Kissinger
  • Audre Lord (writer & feminist who said “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important if I am afraid”)
  • Jonas Salk (invented polio vaccine)
  • Maurice Ashley (first African-American International Grand Chessmaster)
  • Sterling Morrison (co-founder The Velvet Underground)
  • Alfred Stieglitz (photographer)

There are future Colin Powell’s and Jonas Salk’s sitting in CUNY classrooms today. Underfunding of CUNY hurts us all if they don’t get a chance to share their gifts with the rest of the world.