tuition and income inequality

Indulge me a quick break from construction…much more Nervi later this week, in particular…

As many readers know, my day job involves teaching at one of the original land grant universities in the midwest.  Founded by the Morrill Act of 1862, the federal land grant program gave states large parcels of undeveloped land to sell, with the proceeds going toward the foundation or improvement of universities that would:

“…teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”

For the past generation, tuition at our university and many other public universities has made it harder and harder for the “industrial classes” to take advantage of these institutions.

As perhaps fewer readers know, I’m not only a land grant employee, but also a land grant alumni, and even a land grant kid–I went to high school at the University of Illinois’ laboratory school, and my father worked at the U of I and taught higher education policy and finance at other public universities.  When Iowa State made me a Morrill Professor a couple of years ago, it specifically referenced the land grant mission, and thus had particular resonance for me.

Over the last couple of weeks, my father and I put together some numbers that show in some detail how rising tuition is pushing Iowa State away from the land grant ideal–basically, poorer counties in the state have been sending fewer and fewer students per capita to ISU than wealthier counties as tuition has risen and state funding has dried up.  No surprise, but my anecdotal experiences of watching the demographics in my classes change is–sadly–confirmed by these numbers.

Together, we wrote an op-ed piece that ran in this weekend’s Des Moines Register that detailed these findings, and it seems to have resonated.  Architecture and engineering, like many other fields, benefit most when the pool of talent they can draw from is broadest, and the continuing assaults on public education will hurt us, in the long run, just as they hurt many many other businesses and industries.

OK, back to your regularly scheduled blog.  I’m touring two Nervi stadia in the coming weeks as part of the Getty Keeping it Modern grant to put together a preservation plan for Rome’s Stadio Flaminio, and I promise some good concrete here soon…