Alan Aja, Joseph Entin, and Jeanne Theoharis identify the true crime in higher education: the abandonment of public higher education by the states and the federal government. The three authors are professors at Brooklyn College, which is part of the City University of New York (CUNY).

They write:

The biggest scandal in American higher education today is the staggering disinvestment in public universities like CUNY, even as politicians and the public pay lip service to abhorring the inequalities in higher education. What would it mean to view as scandalous the well-documented decline in federal and state funding of public universities across the country over the last 25 years, at the same time students have been expected to shoulder the cost of those “missing expenditures” through tuition hikes (amid other persistent cuts to federal and state financial aid and vital support services)? What would it mean to view self-declared “education governor” Andrew Cuomo of New York as a part of the problem for the ways he has underfunded public universities in the state and to see members of the public who allow this as his accomplices? What would it mean to see the scandal that the broken ceiling exposes as part of a larger systemic problem directly tied to the current state budget’s continued underfunding of CUNY (which once again this time around, fell dramatically short)?

Nearly a quarter of a million undergraduates attend the City University of New York, and they are caught in a vicious bind. Tuition for CUNY — which was free until 1975 — has risen by 31% since 2011. It now stands at $6,730 for full-time students at CUNY’s senior colleges on top of the high costs of housing, food, transportation, books and other personal expenditures in New York City, where the majority of students attending CUNY come from families with incomes of $30,000 or less.

At the same time, CUNY’s per-pupil funding declined by 18% between 2008 and 2018.

Think of it. Students used to be able to enroll in a public university at minimal cost, or none at all. Now, they are saddled with debt for years after they finish college–if they finish. As Sara Goldrick-Rab wrote in her prize-winning book “Paying the Price,” the main reason that low-income students drop out of college is not because of their lack of motivation or ability, but because they can’t afford to pay the costs.