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Reviewed by:
  • Financing American Higher Education in the Era of Globalization by William Zumeta et al.
  • D. Bruce Johnstone
Financing American Higher Education in the Era of Globalization. William Zumeta, David W. Breneman, Patrick M. Callan, and Joni E. Finney. 2012. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press. 272 pp. Hardback ISBN: 978-1-61250-126-0 ($49.95). Paperback ISBN: 978-1-61250-125-3 ($29.95).

Financing American Higher Education in the Era of Globalization is an outstanding and timely contribution to the literature on higher education finance. Zumeta, Breneman, Callan, and Finney bring to this endeavor a wealth of scholarly productivity in slightly different but complementary arenas of higher education finance. But the work flows as from a single author: taut, well written, and a useful demonstration of the advantage of an authored book (even with multiple authors) over the all too common edited works addressing these same issues.

The book is also timely for two reasons. First, it was released in 2012, with the country still slowly emerging from its deep and prolonged financial turndown. State and local governmental agencies, including public schools, colleges, and universities, were (and still are) experiencing a special austerity from which few public colleges and universities will fully recover—at least without some of the difficult and unsettling institutional and governmental policy changes that are the subject of this book. Second, the authors recognize the significance of, as well as the potential to draw lessons from, higher education in the rest of the world. Globalization has profoundly affected our economy. It has also affected the goals we need to set for our public college and universities and provides the metrics—such as participation, completion rates, equity, and graduate employability—for measuring how well our states, public institutions, and higher education systems are, in the terms of Callen and Finney, measuring up.

The central premise of Financing American Higher Education in the Era of Globalization, which is presented tersely but with solid evidence and abundant [End Page 446] references, is that learning and academic achievement are down, both absolutely and relative to our worldwide competitors. This suggests to some a lowering of standards, but access and completion are also down—suggesting social maladies for which colleges and universities may not be directly responsible but for which they must be part of the solution. We need more graduates who are better equipped for the changing needs of society and the increasingly globalized economy. And we need them from a population that is likely, on average, to be academically less well prepared and less motivated than the college students of the past—and we need all this with proportionately fewer tax dollars than we have enjoyed in the past.

The policy dilemmas of increasing access, completion, and effective learning in today's economic and political climate are formidable. Policy makers and university leaders must contend with a recession from which the United States is still only slowly emerging, the dependence of public colleges and universities on state budgets that must be balanced, and a growing acceptance of the need to reduce America's surging and unsustainable debt with both tax increases and expenditure reductions—all amidst a political gridlock that gives little hope for the political statesmanship necessary for enlightened policy, especially on the federal level.

The authors do not merely lament the situation. They present a detailed agenda for federal, state, and institutional actions. Their prescriptions include altering state public higher education funding policies, strengthening federal incentives to move states from merit- to need-based financial assistance, stemming the shift of federal assistance from grants to loans, improving the manageability of student debt, and employing technology and competency-based instruction to enhance the productivity of learning and reduce the costs of instruction.

The authors rightfully assign most of the challenging task of substantially increasing both access and completion to the nation's public comprehensive and community colleges and refrain from prescribing a radical restructuring of the nation's public research universities. At the same time, the universities given this pass must be staffed predominantly by scholars who are given sufficient time and financial support to pursue a genuine research agenda. And they should produce the volume...