***Editor’s Note: The following comments were received in response to John’s commentary that aired the weekend of May 10-11, 2014. We are posting John’s comments first, followed by viewer reaction:
John’s World: "I live about 60 miles from the University of Illinois – the flagship of the extensive public higher education system in my state. The school is well-regarded…and enormous – over 45,000 students at the Champaign-Urbana campus alone. The university has a powerful economic impact on the surrounding community. As one of the premiere land-grand universities, it is a leader in several areas – football being the exception. But here’s a fact that frankly stunned me. Fewer than 600 students attend the U of I from truly rural Illinois counties. Contrast that with an enrollment of over 6,000 Asian students. My taxpayer dollars at both the state and federal level can’t make our best public university affordable or attractive for rural youth. Plus, it’s better business for the U of I to admit full-paying foreign students than recruit from the placed in-state that might benefit most from a solid education. There are many things wrong with higher education in the U.S. – the relentless cost inflation, spiraling student loan debt, more tenured faculty in administration than teaching, and an appalling alcohol-centered student culture. But the biggest issue I have with public higher education at my land-grant institution is it no longer makes proving a ladder to a better way of life for rural students a priority like it did for my generation. This college amid the cornfields has drifted away from its heritage."
Viewer Response #1: Mr. Phipps - thank you for bringing attention to the unwelcoming nature of the University of Illinois toward rural students from Illinois. Our daughter wanted to teach agriculture since she was a freshman in high school. She was accepted to the U of I, but then they started adding to the sticker price. Any ag related major added thousands to the cost of attending. The University of Minnesota, by contrast, was very interested in having her there and at less cost, including out of state tuition. Sarah is now a junior at "The U" and loves it. Kristen, our other daughter, is a freshman at Minnesota and didn't even consider Illinois, although ISU did get some consideration. Our son Thomas, a sophomore in high school, wants to look at Big 10 schools, but does not want to look at Illinois either. I'm afraid by turning off our oldest they lost all three of our kids. Thank you, Lars Lee - Poplar Grove, IL
Viewer Response #2: Dear John - Your vexation with student enrollment statistics at the University of Ill surprises me. As an accomplished journalist/reporter, how has the systematic take-over of our economy by foreign (primarily Asian) interests possibly gotten by you? I challenge you to find one episode of U.S. Farm Report or comparable business newscast over the past several years that does not mention China, Japan or Southeast Asia at least once during the broadcast. China and/or Japan's shopping moods have totally dominated US commodities exchanges and associated market activities for quite some time. Economic trickle-down from this alarming dependence on export sales to developing Asian nations has contributed to degradation of individual buying power and quality of life in this country...opportunity for rural college education being a more recent casualty. Other competition with foreign trade for diesel fuel, heating oil, LP gas, construction materials, textiles, grains, and meat & dairy products continue to seriously restrict availability to the average American consumer. Could industrial greed possibly be a factor here? Life is "trade-offs." Clearly, the affordability of a rural college education (or a steak dinner) in this country is being traded for higher profits received from competing foreign trade/sales. Being the research guru that you are, I don't have to remind you that over 46% of all US debt is owned by foreign investors. China is by far the largest owner of publicly held US debt, third only to Social Security Trust and Federal Reserve. Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong are runners-up. There is an old saying that "paybacks are hell". Sincerely, Dan Van Schaik - Gordonville, TX
Viewer Response #3: John, you nailed my observations as well after taking a high school senior there to visit. I came away thinking this place does not represent itself very well as a Land Grant Institution that was established to provide a reasonably priced education (I am an Ag major from another Land Grant University in 1984). As the most expensive institution we visited I was not impressed with the condition of the campus. I would expect there would be more investment in facilities with the high cost of the education they provide. I'm not sure where all the money goes but, I suppose it’s all the tenured salaries John referenced. It appeared tired, dated and I have never seen so many window unit air conditioners used on a campus in my life. Believe me I would overlook all of that if it was somewhat affordable. But, it was not. However, the Admissions Coordinator made the most professional appeal to students I have ever sat through. She did a very nice job. My daughter is entering the health field and having to spend most of her time in Chicago to complete her education we concluded they had nothing we needed. I came away so disgusted by the cost that I contacted my U.S. Congressman. She said she had no say in the situation but, it was for the state of Illinois to address. We found a much more affordable and nicer campus and a better health major program I feel at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. Brent Highfill