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Commentary: Higher Education Is A Choice, Not A Right

Protesting is like a right of passage for many college students.  Want to order late-night pizza, adopt a wardrobe of sweatpants, or stage a lock-in at the President’s office?  College students will be there.  Yet, the recent protests at OSU’s campus raised more than a few eye-rolls. It also raised important questions about the role of education in today’s financial climate. The protest coincided with other national demonstrations, focused on the rising trend of privatizing public universities and the rising cost of tuition.  To the first point, protestors chanted slogans such as “O-H-I-O corporate greed has got to go!â€?  The OSU protesters denounced some of the university’s proposal to priviatize parts of the college community, such as campus parking. On this issue,  the students’ anger is well placed; privatizing pubic institutions such as OSU ultimately hurt student interests.  The issue is not that universities are becoming more like businesses; they have always operated like a business - exchanging  tuition money for classes.   But the more OSU bows to private investors, the less input students, faculty, and staff hold over their school’s operation.  And students have a right to be upset when corporate interests influence how their tuition is  spent. However, the students’ second complaint about increasing tuition costs is not as strong.  When chanting the slogan “education is a rightâ€?, students argued that the as a right, education should be affordable.  Yet they confuse the issue of right versus choice. Protestors correctly argue that the more tuition costs, the less likely students are to afford the choice of college. This is a valid concern. But saying education is a “rightâ€? misplaces the students’ responsibility to make choices.  For whatever reasons, the protestors made the choice to attend OSU; and by making that choice, they accepted both the benefits as well as the financial burden of being a student. There have always been financial differences across universities. Some schools are more expensive than others. And if OSU wants to increase tuition, that’s its choice.  True, as the largest state school, OSU should keep tuition rates affordable, since higher tuition could drive away students.  But that simply is a matter of bad business . . . not student rights. In the end, the financial aspects of education continue to remain a treacherous battleground. Students will always call for lower tuition; administrators will always argue for more money. The bigger issue to keep in mind in this financial climate is not so much the cost of education, but where educational dollars are going.  Tuition at OSU is high, but that money does more than pay faculty salaries.  It supports recreation facilities, concerts, campus movies, student clubs, and much more.   All of this extra stuff does little to promote the actual purpose of higher education – to learn. Perhaps in the future, the protestors slogan shouldn’t be “education is a right,â€? but instead “education is an education – ditch all this other stuff!â€?