To distract yourself from the California meltdown, read UK Universities Minister David Willetts take to the Guardian defend the multi-year elimination of nearly all direct public funding, among his other measures. See Willetts sophistically claim that government investment has not been cut because student loans are really the same as grants.
This weekend the New York Times magazine had several good pieces on education. See in particular What if the Secret to Success Is Failure, which is about the role of education in building personalities that can sustain effort, insight, creativity, and success -- all depending on the kind of individualizing environment that budget cuts are wrecking at the public college level.
Salt Lake's Deseret News seems to be one of the few dailies that noticed the US slipping again in the OECD's international rankings of student attainment, this time from 12th to 16th. Paul Glastris attributes national compacency to US News's annual parade of elite privates, which he says suggests the U.S. is still on top.
But there's a deeper dynamic at work, something more weirdly self-destructive within American policy today. For example, Paul Krugman writes what must be his 50th denunciation of irrational Hooverist austerity that torpodoes the economy -- or, in today's metaphor, that applies leeches to bleed an already enfeebled patient. Closer to hope, I am nearly done listening to a recording of last Thursday's UC Regent's Committee on Finance discussion of UCOP's idea of presenting Sacramento with a simple tradeoff between increased state support and tuition hikes. There is no consensus among the Regents about what the legislature thinks of UC, and thus nothing close to a strategy. I'll say more about this meeting later, but a mysterious vortex is pulling at everyone.
Many Regents returned to the old standby solution of increased private fundraising, this time with more emphasis on scholarships to preserve access. At the same time, coverage of Moody's new report on higher education begins, "Public and private universities across the United States have been struggling with endowment losses, thin liquidity, declining gifts, reduced state help and resistance to tuition hikes since 2008." Fundraising was flat in 2010, and the decline in megagifts implies that the costs of fundraising are increasing faster than the returns themselves. The Regental debate suggests skepticism towards philanthropy on the Board as well.