Let's keep American universities at the top of the world
Let's keep American universities at the top of the world
This article originally appeared in the Texarkana Gazette on December 20, 2009
Dr. Robert S. Owen, Professor of Marketing, Texas A&M-Texarkana, College of Business
The last time I wrote here (the Texarkana Gazette), it was about how it has become fashionable for Americans to bash Americans. It almost seems to be politically incorrect to dare express pride in our country, pride in our distinctly American culture, and pride in our standing as a worldwide leader. So I have to ask: if Americans are so ignorant, so uneducated, and so repulsive to everyone else in the world, why is it that our colleges and universities are the envy of everyone else?
Imagine this - a true story, but I can't yet reveal any details: A philanthropic foundation wants to build a university on American soil. The intention is not to provide yet another university choice for American students, but to provide a university opportunity for students from another particular region of the world. So you have to ask yourself, why would they want to build a university right here in the United States instead of in their home region of the world? The reason is that there is a lot of prestige to listing a made-in-America degree on one's resume.
Now think about which diploma you would prefer to list on your resume if you were looking for a job. Qinghua University is considered one of the top universities in China. If you could go to that school or you could go to, say, University of Texas in Austin, which would you rather list on your resume for an MBA degree? I suspect that most Americans would prefer to list an MBA from the American school. But a lot of Chinese would also prefer to list an American MBA on their resumes.
I recently read an America-bashing article stating that the number of international applicants to American MBA (business) schools is falling. What the article neglected to emphasize is that the MAJORITY of students outside of the United States still have some desire to gain entrance into an American MBA school. "Only" 59 percent of non-American GMAT test takers (required for entrance into most MBA programs) sent their scores to American universities last year -- that "only" part makes it sound terrible, doesn't it? Think about just how amazing that number is, despite the negative spin put on it: 6 out of 10 people who live outside of the United States would like to go to an American MBA school. They could stay at home to go to a Russian university, a Chinese university, a French university, a British university. But 6 out of 10 non-Americans around the world aspires to gain a made-in-America MBA degree.
While I don't like the way politically-correct crowd thinks it is cute to bash America, I do agree that we should be concerned that we can't allow ourselves to get cocky and rest on our laurels. My own biggest concern is that as a society, we've quit investing into higher education in this country. Thirty years ago, our country had a system of state-supported universities. By ten years ago, many of those had slipped from state-supported to state-assisted -- meaning that less than half of a school's budget came from state support. In recent years, however, many university leaders have been complaining that their schools have slipped from being state-assisted to being merely "state-located."
At the same time that the state-funded proportion of university budgets has declined, state legislators have complained that tuition and fees at state-assisted schools has increased at a rate that is higher than inflation. Is it any wonder that tuition would necessarily HAVE to increase if state financial support declines? And when tuition increases fail to cover budget shortfalls, universities have no choice but to cut the quality of services that they provide. Class sizes will get larger, writing centers and math tutoring centers will shrink, library hours will decline, extracurricular and recreational activities will be deleted, campus security staff will be cut. All at a time of historically high tuition rates.
The amount of state support for universities doesn't have a direct effect on the tuition that international (foreign) students pay -- they pay a premium that is above full sticker price -- but it does affect the quality of a university experience for all students when services are cut. When those international students, their parents, or their corporate sponsors perceive that the quality of the American university experience is not worth the high prices, they will start spending their money at home or elsewhere. And when the demand for a made-in-America university degree declines, the prestige of America will decline.
So this is what I want you to think about: I'd rather live in this country than anywhere else on the planet and I take offense at anyone who unduly criticizes the global leadership role that this country plays. However, I cannot completely discount the concerns that some folks express when they say that we could be slipping if we aren't careful. The prestige that our universities bring to this country should give us great pride, but that prestige is something that we must constantly protect. The next time you hear talk about rising tuition and fees and decreased services at state universities, please give consideration to the loss of state support that these institutions receive. People around the world want a made-in-America education because we're the best. Help protect the prestige that America enjoys by voicing your opinion that we cannot sustain that prestige if we keep losing state support for our universities.
Robert S. Owen, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Marketing in the College of Business, Texas A&M University-Texarkana.