Can business leaders save education?
How can we get legislative funding for all Iowans’ post-high-school education?
Aside from bemoaning tuition increases — before increasing them again — those responsible have shown little sympathy and less results: state university presidents, Board of Regents, Gov. Kim Reynolds, and legislators.
Where can we turn?
How about those who hold political power and control: the business community?
Business leaders are assuming more social and political responsibility. When many Republican leaders did a little sidestep around President Donald Trump’s seeming tolerance of neo-Nazis, CEOs of large corporations resigned from Trump’s business councils in protest. A similarly prestigious group of corporate leaders defeated the Texas legislators’ “bathroom bill.” Many business owners are making sure their employees will have health care.
Might they lobby for education appropriations as well?
An educated population benefits everyone — and business most of all. Iowa’s problem is not a shortage of jobs. It is a shortage of skilled workers (as well as entrepreneurs and a creative class). More skilled workers mean less turnover and training, improved productivity, quality control, profits, and economic growth for Iowa’s towns.
Business leaders are aware the post-World War II economic boom was driven by a college-educated workforce of veterans, paid for by the GI Bill. California and New York built comparable economic growth with decades of tuition-free higher education. Globally, business leaders in 24 countries are benefiting from employees with tuition-free college educations; 13 of those countries offer tuition-free educations to other countries’ students as well (including ours).
Historically, Iowans have willingly financed public education since the first one-room schoolhouse in 1830. By 1910, the state was one of the first with a statewide high school system, until recently ranked one of the country’s best.
After another 107 years, expanding public education from K-12 to K-14 is scarcely a premature, radical move. Rules vary, but nine states already have some form of tuition-free community college: Arkansas, California (San Francisco), Louisiana, Minnesota, New York (plus four-year college), Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Tennessee.
Expanding such a program to the three, four-year regents universities (as New York has done) might be premature. But starting with Iowa’s 15 community colleges ought to be possible.
If Iowa wants to build a competitive edge in a global economy, it must first construct the educational foundation to support it. It simply can’t afford to leave qualified, willing students uneducated.
Business leaders: legislators look to you for ideas as well as campaign contributions. You can give them a nudge, give them permission, you can insist they fund at least tuition-free public community colleges for Iowans.
Indeed, if you don’t insist, it will never happen.
Do it for your business, your shareholders, your town, your family — or because you know it’s the right thing to do. Just do it.
• Nicholas Johnson is a former university professor who maintains www.nicholasjohnson.org. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org