BY STATE SEN. JUAN ‘CHUY’ HINOJOSA
Institutions of higher education, our universities and community colleges, are the foundation of our communities. These institutions not only provide education to those in our community, but they are also part of our culture and have a positive impact on our economy. Our universities and community colleges educate our teachers, our healthcare professionals, our skilled workforce and future leaders. More than that, our colleges help promote a healthy democracy.
Our communities take a lot of pride in our colleges. We are proud to be UTRGV Vaqueros and Texas A&M Corpus Christi Islanders. We are proud to be Del Mar Vikings or STC Jaguars. Our businesses, community leaders, alumni, and other friends of these institutions make monetary donations to help them continue delivering on their mission and purpose.
From society’s perspective, communities with a higher percentage of college graduates tend to have lower crime rates, greater civic participation and “improved performance across a host of socioeconomic measures,” concluded the study called, “The Value of Higher Education: Individual and Societal Benefits.” When our colleges are threatened, our communities are ready to unite and raise arms to protect and defend these institutions.
Even with all these benefits, higher education is under attack from individuals who express little confidence in colleges. There are those, like one former state senator from Arizona, who ask, “Why does a kid go to a major university these days? Many politicians would say they go there to get brainwashed and learn how to become activists and basically go out in the world and cause trouble.”
This is a short-sighted and disturbing view because it is a direct attack on higher education and it translates to a call for less government funding for universities. In short, we cannot allow this type of view or partisan politics — which has divided our country on a number of public policy issues — to cloud our view on something as fundamental and important as education.
To be clear, higher education has its challenges. Affordability is one of the greatest of the challenges. But we as a society cannot and should not diminish the value of an education simply because of the ongoing challenges of these esteemed institutions that are envied around the world.
Our institutions of higher education are the foundation of our society. They collaborate with our communities to help address local challenges and respond to workforce needs. It is imperative that we are aggressively monitoring funding challenges, because investing in our institutions of higher education is key to the future growth and success of Texas.
For the sake of our democracy, our conversations should be focused on college accessibility, affordability, and completion. But, should the debate stray into the value of higher education overall, our communities need to be ready to push back. We must be prepared to stand up for our universities. It is critical that we have an educated society. Otherwise, our democracy is at risk.