A critical reminder about investment

From Charlotte lawyer John Wester, in response to “Fund need-based aid to drive U.S. economy” (Aug 16 Viewpoint):

I am grateful for Erskine Bowles’ op-ed. The central issue he raises is the increasing lack of affordability of our state’s public colleges and universities. Specifically, need-based aid our state has provided to students continues to drop. As Mr. Bowles points out, this reduction has taken place while “tuition and fees have increased, pricing higher education out of the hands of North Carolina kids from both middle and lower income families.”

What mystifies me are these parallels: No one doubts that bringing good jobs to North Carolina is essential to our state’s future, yet our legislature is failing to provide adequate funds for those pursuing degrees.

As UNC System President Thomas Ross observed at the National Public Affairs Forum in March: “Even though enrollment in our colleges and universities has grown by over 60 percent during the (past 25-year) period … we spend about 30 percent less per student today than we did 25 years ago.”

It makes compelling economic sense to increase our investment in public and higher education, just as any good business planners would invest in a solid initiative for their company. Our UNC campuses attract more than $1.2 billion in annual research grants. The UNC system creates $27.9 billion of added economic value for our state’s economy, according to a recent statewide analysis.

I hope that articles like Erskine Bowles’ will raise our attention to “high alert.” We cannot afford to “disinvest” in higher education, without paying a price that our state and nation cannot afford.