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Education spending isimportant in recession

It seems to be a rule that when a state’s budget shrinks, funding for education is up for cuts. In American politics, education spending is seen as expendable.

The Florida Legislature begins the two-month process of hammering out a budget today, and with an estimated $3.2 billion shortfall, state universities may suffer. Federal stimulus money helped soften the blow for USF in the 2009-10 fiscal year, but a steep cut could lead to layoffs, said USF Government Relations Lobbyist Mark Walsh.

The severity of this recession means Florida will have to cut back everywhere, but education should not be first in line for the chopping block. This may be the best time to invest in education.

The U.S. approach to spending means it will continue to lose ground to other countries in education and research, according to a new paper by the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California at Berkeley.

John Aubrey Douglass, the paper’s author, noted that most countries within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have been able to avoid large college budget cuts. A few countries like Brazil and South Korea actually increased spending on higher education last year.

“Looking over one’s shoulder at the rest of the world, there appears to be a different set of national government approaches to funding and supporting higher education during the Great Recession than what we find in the U.S.,” Douglass wrote.

Other countries seem to place more value on higher education than the U.S. “Their political leaders see higher education as a key to short-term economic recovery and long-term competitiveness,” Douglass said.

The U.S. now ranks 10th in the proportion of adults ages 25 to 34 with at least an associate degree, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. America may find it increasingly harder to compete with more educated nations.

Douglass cited a study by Moody’s Investors Service, a financial-forecasting company, which predicted that public universities internationally could increase enrollment and receive federal support.

It is embarrassing that U.S. public universities are left struggling while other countries are investing in them in the midst of recession.

Some are trying to change the U.S. mentality. In President Barack Obama’s $3.8 trillion proposed budget, he wants to increase federal education spending by 6 percent, despite his net freeze on discretionary domestic spending.

However, Douglass pointed out that while other nations control education from the federal level, it is primarily up to the states to support public colleges in the U.S. The Florida Legislature should keep that in mind and listen to Gov. Charlie Crist, who called for an extra $100 million for public universities this fiscal year.

Investing in education now will pay off during the economic recovery.