Today, the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper is reporting that Governor Schwarzenegger has decided to cancel fee increases for college students. This is the first good news in American education that I can think of for a long time, and definitely is different that the recent budget proposal at the Federal (national) level which cut student aid.
I am glad that Governor Schwarzenegger has decided to not raise the tuition for California schools, as this is preventing a move in the wrong direction. But overall I think our country is still going in the wrong direction with its education policy.
Economics talks about something called comparative advantage. A country's comparative advantage is what it does better than other countries. For America, that has been in areas related to education, such as sciences, developing new products, commercializing products, etc. These are area strongly affected by education. So for us to stay on top of our game, we need to make sure we have a great education system.
But recently, there have been a lot of changes affecting education. For one, the budget deficit run up over the last 4 or 5 years has gotten so out of hand that spending cuts need to be made. Yet we can't cut spending on the war in Iraq or on the larger government that has been put in place (even though Republicans for some reason still say that Democrats are the party of big government...), nor roll back the tax cuts given (which I think were stupid, given we had such bad deficits), so instead they are cutting aid to students (along with some other cuts). I think this is the wrong direction - instead we should be funding education even more than we are.
Secondly, our fight against terrorism has made it a lot harder for foreign students to get Visas to come study here. Foreign students were cash cows for schools, as they pay the full fare rate. This money sure was needed by schools. Added to this, these foreign students are still going to get educations, so now go to other countries like Australia and in Europe. These other countries have stepped up to fill in the needs for these students, and have been vastly improving, reducing the difference between foreign schools and American schools. We have had the best colleges in the world, but that probably won't last long. Yes, we should be vigilant in screening people who apply for student Visas and in making sure they really are students, but we should also ensure that legitimate students can get here without undue difficulty.
And our immigration policy also doesn't help (Ok, this isn't really an education policy, but is related). Our immigration policy favors allowing family members of those who are already here to enter the country. These family members are often uneducated and older. At the same time, those students who do get here to study are forced to leave if they can't find a job shortly after graduating. Studies have shown that young, educated people add a lot to the economy (while not drawing a lot from social services), while uneducated people don't make a lot (so don't pay much taxes) and can draw a lot from social services. Instead we should allow those students who graduate from here (especially those with advanced degrees or degrees in areas where we are short of workers, like in the sciences) to stay longer.
Of course funding education is expensive, but I don't think our country can afford not to do it. We aren't competitive in manufacturing or in areas that can be automated or offshored, but we are still the leader in entrepreneuership and sciences. If a country like China (whose education system spits out many more scientists than we do) improves to a point where they teach more than just rote learning, we are in trouble. Our only chance is to maintain our leadership in education, as that feeds the rest of our economy.