Harvard Educational Review
  1. Financing American Higher Education in the Era of Globalization

    William Zumeta, David W. Breneman, Patrick M. Callan, and Joni E. Finney

    Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2012. 272 pp. $29.95.

    Higher education is expected to cultivate and preserve knowledge, develop innovative technology, produce a creative and skilled labor force, and promote civic engagement and social mobility. Such a broad mandate requires financial support; however, increasing demand and increasingly scarce financial resources present difficult challenges. In Financing American Higher Education in the Era of Globalization, William Zumeta, David Breneman, Patrick Callan, and Joni Finney consider these challenges and offer some recommendations to redress the growing gaps between supply and demand in higher education through policy and the careful allocation of resources.

    In the first chapter, the authors provide a concise overview of the precarious state of higher education in the United States. The authors discuss the increasing demand for skilled labor and the United States’ declining global competitiveness. We learn about dwindling state support and aid and skyrocketing tuition and loan debt. As a result of decreasing state appropriations, individuals are compelled to contribute more in tuition. As demand increases, the supply of higher education struggles to keep pace. Zumeta and colleagues aim to “assert the urgency” (p. 30) of the challenges facing American higher education, and they succeed in that goal. Their introductory message—that higher education is facing a crisis—is loud and clear and sets a compelling tone for the rest of the book.

    The authors are most successful in their discussion of the historical and contemporary landscape of public higher education policy and finance. In chapters 3 and 4, they cover the demand explosion of the mid-twentieth century, the popularization of human capital theory, and the battle for access giving way to the middle-class call for affordability. They briefly discuss some widespread institutional responses to changes in finance and policy, such as tuition increases. Importantly, the presentation of this history is clear, concise, accessible, and current through the Obama administration. These chapters provide suitable background for the key moments in higher education policy and finance over the past sixty years.

    The history of higher education policy is dominated by the shift in financing away from the state and onto the individual. As state appropriations dwindle, public colleges and universities increasingly rely on tuition revenue to balance the budget. Students are asked to shoulder a greater burden. This shift toward the student-consumer has been justified on the premise that students are the most proximal beneficiaries of the investment in education. This trend has been hotly politicized and debated in higher education and the policy arena. To their credit, the authors seem reluctant to take an aggressive ideological stance on this issue. Instead, they highlight the reality that students do benefit from the knowledge gained from, and the wage premium associated with, a college education. At the same time, they caution against the trend toward student-dependent financing, citing the colossal growth in student debt and default. Furthermore, their consideration of national competitiveness in a global world, and American higher education’s integral role in promoting the nation’s economic and intellectual health, serves to remind policy makers about the public benefits related to investing in higher education. Throughout the book, their measured and balanced approach adds further credibility to their call for awareness and action.

    For the most part, the book focuses on public institutions. In chapter 4, the authors consider the diversity in state policy, many challenges facing states, and policy levers at the disposal of politicians and stakeholders. Although much of the discussion is state-specific, many of the challenges described transcend borders and public and private sectors. For example, the authors publicize the documented gaps in college readiness and call for better articulation between K–12 and higher education—a recommendation to be heeded by all involved in the educational pipeline.

    Stakeholders at private and proprietary institutions might find the overall discussion more limited. The authors recognize the incredible growth of the proprietary sector and urge greater oversight to maximize the potential of these institutions to expand the capacity of American higher education. And, of course, the technology favored by many of these for-profit colleges is finding its way into the nonprofit sector. Throughout the analysis, however, the focus rests on responding to the growing demand for higher education, and Zumeta and colleagues emphasize the role of public colleges and universities in this endeavor.

    While the authors succeed in presenting a nuanced view of challenges facing American higher education, their recommendations are fairly broad and straightforward. In addition to highlighting some model programs and policies in chapters 6 and 7, they call for an increase in student aid and more efficient institutional spending. These are not groundbreaking recommendations, but they are obviously worth consideration and discussion. Other suggestions are more thought provoking. The call for a more flexible aid system—one that caters, for example, to part-time students—is interesting. Certainly, this tailored approach is more appropriate for an increasingly diverse and nontraditional population of students in higher education. Similarly, reformatting aid to incentivize persistence and completion could help motivate students from matriculation to graduation. The specifics are not clear; however, the authors provide many points for continuing this discussion.

    Overall, Financing American Higher Education in the Era of Globalization provides an exceptional introduction to the history of higher education policy and finance. The generality of the recommendations does not detract from the strengths of the review. Newcomers and seasoned professionals in the field of higher education will appreciate the authors’ clear language and balanced approach. As scholars, professionals, and policy makers work to meet the growing demand for higher education, this book amplifies higher education’s critical role in promoting America’s intellectual and labor productivity in a competitive world.
    j.t.m.
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    Book Notes

    Financing American Higher Education in the Era of Globalization
    William Zumeta, David W. Breneman, Patrick M. Callan, and Joni E. Finney