Editorial: State needs to remember mission of land-grant colleges in its appropriations

Editorial Board

Public education is about much more than giving universities state appropriations for their operations. Iowa State is a land-grant college. Begun to fulfill the Morrill Act’s goal of creating in each state and funded either from renting out tracts of land or selling it and investing the profits, Iowa State is supposed to be the college in Iowa that combines technical learning that is useful in crafting the world around us and the classical education that is necessary to make a difference through interacting with people.

Public education is not about subsidies. It is about service. Recently, the state legislature and Board of Regents have come under fire for a number of practices regarding educational policy. The Regents, it was recently discovered, require Iowa State, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa to set aside a certain portion of each student’s tuition to provide scholarships to other students.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives, Senate and Gov. Terry Branstad cannot agree on how much money to give the Regents universities and how much to give students who attend Iowa’s private colleges and universities. Last year, when the Regents universities received nearly $500 million, the Iowa Tuition Grant program gave about $49 million to 18,000 students.

It’s good the state of Iowa deems education so important. For a long time, our state was a leader in educating its citizens at all ages. By helping so many students pursue higher education, Iowa lives up to the words appearing on our state quarter: “Foundation in education.” But state support for the thousands of students enrolled in private colleges is no substitute for the legislature taking a more active, interested role — both for appropriations and other involvement — in Iowa’s Regents universities.

Education is about much more than going to class, graduating and getting a job. To say that education should be pursued with concern only for its economic incentives — in other words, only for money — is to ignore the aspects of life that are beyond our mere survival.

Doctors, lawyers and clergy are all members of professions. All members of each of those classes take oaths upon being admitted to work not for their interest, but for others.

As a country, we have believed, at least since Thomas Jefferson’s time, that citizenship is in a way a profession, too. There is more to citizenship than simply getting a good job and paying taxes. It involves consideration for others and for the character of our interactions — a vision land-grant colleges such as Iowa State were chartered to protect. As the state considers its appropriations for the coming year, the legislature should remember this is a vision worth protecting.