Colleges Courting Foreign Investors – And Forgetting Poor Students

Earlier today I read two troubling articles on colleges….seemingly unrelated. One was about a former foster care student being sanctioned by an Ivy League school for misrepresentation; the other about how foreign countries have invested billions into American universities (video linked below). However it was clear to me after some thought, that the two topics are in fact related.

I have never been shy about my support of any initiatives to cancel student loan debt on a widespread scale. Many people see this as a pass for people to shirk their responsibilities. What they often choose to ignore though is the question “Why is college tuition so expensive in the first place?”. It is not secret that the cost of college has outpaced the rise in inflation for decades. So why isn’t there more finger wagging at the colleges and universities in regards to their tuition costs?

(Graphic from the Tax Foundation)

That is what makes these two stories that much worse. Let’s tackle the issue foreign investment in American colleges first. If a college or university wants to work to secure grant and gift money, then fine. They should do so. They should also be free to court whatever money and gifts they wish to pursue (in spite of linking the video from the Clarion project, I don’t fully agree with it, which concludes that by accepting foreign funds, then the colleges/universities then become subject to refine their curricula to the standards of the benefactors…..which I am sure happens sometimes, but not all of the time). But they also should be held accountable to stay true to their mission statement. For example, the mission statement of my alma maters are as follows:

As a land-grant institution, the faculty, staff and students at West Virginia University commit to creating a diverse and inclusive culture that advances education, healthcare and prosperity for all by providing access and opportunity; by advancing high-impact research; and by leading transformation in West Virginia and the world through local, state and global engagement.West Virginia University
Florida Gulf Coast University, a comprehensive institution of higher education, offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs of strategic importance to Southwest Florida and beyond. FGCU seeks academic excellence in the development of selected programs and centers of distinction in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, health professions, business, and marine and environmental sciences. Outstanding faculty and staff supported by a strong community of advisors prepare students for gainful employment and successful lives as responsible, productive and engaged citizens. FGCU emphasizes innovative, student-centered teaching and learning, promotes and practices environmental sustainability, embraces diversity, nurtures community partnerships, values public service, encourages civic responsibility, and cultivates habits of lifelong learning and the discovery of new knowledge.Florida Gulf Coast University

Every donation and gift that a university receives should be applied to the execution of the mission statement of a college and university. And the core of any institution of higher education is its students and faculty. Both mission statements talk about diversity and inclusion and this should extend to low-income students by default.

But this is not happening, poor college students are falling through the cracks. Even when they manage to earn their degrees, they begin their professional lives buried under a mountain of debt.

Circling back to the first story regarding the former foster student, I was appalled by how nearsighted the administration of an Ivy League School could be in regards to recognizing true disadvantage. On the other hand, this foster student did have a mother who was incredibly privileged and vindictive and seemed to convince the university that if the full story got out, it would become a PR nightmare. Which highlights the main issue: colleges and universities care more about their image than do the right thing. This sentiment also encompasses caring about the bottom line above and beyond other things (like the faculty and students). This pandering to the donors hurts all other parties in the process. If big money donors do not approve of a certain initiative, then it does not happen. That is why funding sources are so very important. If a college or university has enough funding from sources that truly allow it to exercise decisions that are in accordance to its mission, then that is an ideal state of operation.

American higher education needs to be better — it can’t be up for sale to the highest bidder.