Quality Education for All

​Interview with Bill Banowsky, producer of the highly-acclaimed documentary “Starving the Beast.”

A screening of this award-winning, feature-length film will take place during the 2017 Forum at 7:00 PM Thursday, June 1, in the Independence Ballroom located at the Marriott Marquis Hotel and Conference Center. A discussion featuring Bill Banowsky and a panel of individuals featured in the film will follow the screening.

Poster_Beast.pngeAIR: What was the impetus for the creation and development of this film?

We began making this film in 2012. Steve Mims (director, Starving the Beast) and I were living in Austin at the time and observed several remarkable and dramatic things happening in Texas public higher education; an area, of course, that seldom sees dramatic or remarkable change. Governor Rick Perry had declared his intention to adopt a series of controversial proposals – written by Austin businessman and Perry financial supporter Jeff Sandefer – called the “Seven Breakthrough Solutions for Higher Education.” These proposals advocated for a business-style, market-driven approach to public higher education, under which colleges and universities would treat students as customers, research would be de-emphasized, and faculty would be graded by the tuition revenue they generated. Governor Perry began appointing people to the board of regents at the University of Texas and Texas A&M who would support these fairly radical changes. Much drama ensued, as is shown in the film, including, ultimately, the resignation of the popular UT President Bill Powers, who opposed these changes. Once we started following what was happening in Texas we realized the story had a larger scope. This same narrative was playing out across the country.

eAIR: Why do you think the conversation has shifted from higher education being viewed as a greater societal good to it being viewed as an individual benefit?

There has been much discussion about how expensive college has become. It’s the subject of high-profile policy debates at every level of government, and it is a hard reality for millions of families in this country. There has been much less discussion, however, about how and why college became so expensive. Much of the blame has been placed on increasing costs and the inefficiencies of our public higher educational systems, and to some extent, this is correct. Costs have risen and public colleges and universities are, in truth, inefficient institutions. But few realize the extraordinary degree to which state funding has decreased during the past 35 years. In 1980, on average, 60% of a public university’s budget came from state funding. By 2015 state funding had dropped precipitously, with roughly 12% of public higher education funding coming from the state. Over the past 35 years, we, as a society, have essentially shifted the cost of public higher education from the state to the individual. This did not happen overnight. This shift in the conversation from higher education being viewed as a greater societal good to it being viewed as an individual benefit has been happening over the last four decades with the policy decisions that have consistently moved us away from viewing public higher education as a public good, an essential investment in our citizens that has delivered great returns in the form of economic productivity and tremendous societal benefits.

eAIR: What did you learn from making this film that you want viewers to take away?

People from all over the globe come to this country to take advantage of the quality education that our public colleges and universities offer. Our public higher education systems are the envy of the world. The research that has been produced at our public research universities has been a significant driver for the global economy and has helped our country defend itself in an increasingly hostile world. As a result of our investment in public higher education, we have made quality higher education available to everyone and anyone who is capable and willing to do the work required to earn a degree. This has resulted in a society that allows people to move up in economic status. Driven and capable people are empowered to succeed at the highest levels, regardless of wealth or lack thereof. As we continue to shift the cost of public higher education away from the state and onto the individual, we erode opportunities for those with limited financial means. Affluent families will always be able to afford a great education for their children. The elite private colleges and universities will continue to thrive. But if we do not re-evaluate our support for public higher education, I worry that many smart, capable, and ambitious individuals will be left behind by a system that no longer offers quality higher education for all. The results could be devastating for our country and the world.




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Total Comments: 1
Cliff posted on 5/11/2017 4:46 PM
Would the panelists address the emergence of nearly 100 non-IHE offerors of microcredentials (badges, certificates, etc.) and courseware (e.g. MOOCs), their claims of hundreds of thousands of enrollees, their funding by venture capitalists and foundations, their primary service to business, their avoidance of verifiable data on their students, and their lack of involvement in any quality assurance structure---all in light of the trends and social benefits the film underscores? I am sure AIR members would benefit from this discussion.