In the late 1980s, eight of the top 25 national universities in the U.S. News rankings were public, compared with three today. Much of that change is not attributed to a decline in the quality of public universities, but to the formulas used by many of the rankings systems — formulas that reward wealth. And on that measure, private universities have been pulling away from public schools for years.
At the beginning of last decade, college students who went to public universities paid for about one-third of their education.
Today, in more than half the states, they pay for most of it. A new model of public higher education is needed.
At least twice before in American history, public higher education has been reinvented. During the Civil War, land-grant colleges were established to focus on the training needs of the Industrial Revolution. In the middle of the last century, states built community colleges and expanded regional teachers’ colleges to serve growing numbers of students who needed a college degree in an information economy.