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Asking the wrong questions

The past few editions of The Cavalier Daily have been distressing to me, with all the stories surrounding the current crisis in higher education. Between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's efforts to teach their courses online, the free online content of The Faculty Project, President Sullivan pressing against Gov. Bob McDonnell's limit on using in-state tuition to fund financial aid, and University of California, Riverside's most recent efforts to charge students 5 percent of their future incomes instead of tuition, I am unsure where we should begin if we really want to explore ways to improve this system for future college students.

While I absolutely applaud the creativity of the ideas presented in recent articles to reduce the overall cost or improve the overall quality of education, we are in desperate need of new ideas. I am left wondering if there is actually a way to fix one aspect of higher education without severely damaging another.

For instance, if we start providing classes at a lower cost - or for free - online, we would be increasing opportunities for those who cannot afford a college degree at current rates to attain degrees. As a democratic ideal, this would be nice. At the same time, if this becomes a trend, universities would want to emphasize the importance of an in-person education, so as to maintain their standing and funding, and they would turn their attention toward those less academic aspects of the "college experience." This result would be to the academic detriment of those attending universities.

The governor's cap on tuition spending used to cover financial aid also suffers from trade-offs. If the commonwealth is going to reduce the amount of money it allocates to public universities - itself a necessary response to a tight economy and public cries of overspending - these universities need to find some way to make up the difference in their own budgets. It makes logical sense to increase tuition, as donated funds become increasingly difficult to find while maintenance costs are remaining the same or even increasing. But is it fair to ask some students to finance the education of others? I suppose both groups are paying the same amount eventually, but the difference in costs to each in the present is troubling.

In examining the crisis of higher education, I think there are unpleasant questions we must face: Should it be a goal that every American attain a college degree? Should there be barriers to entry? What is the purpose of a college degree, ideally and realistically? What is it exactly that we are paying all this money for?

Until we can answer these sorts of difficult questions, I am sorry to say, all the creativity in the world will not be able to fix a system that is this broken.

Laura Lattimer\nCLAS IV

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