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Continuing the tradition of Grapevine commentary

DeGarmo Hall in the sunlight

DeGarmo Hall

Today’s observers of higher education associate Grapevine with data on state fiscal support for higher education.  The release of Grapevine data each year garners considerable media attention, focused particularly on the questions of whether funding has increased or declined and in which states. State policymakers use the data, in conjunction with SHEEO’s State Higher Education Finance report, to show how funding in their states fares in relation to others. Researchers also analyze the data, tracking long-term trends and investigating the causes of funding increases and declines.

But before the first annual report of state funding appeared in 1961, Grapevine got its start in January 1959 as a newsletter that became the go-to source for information on state higher education policy. Grapevine’s founder, M. M. Chambers, used the newsletter to chronicle new developments in the states as they figured out how to structure, govern, and fund the rapidly growing higher education systems in the postwar era and as they adjusted to new economic realities that led to ups and downs in state funding from the late 1970s on. Published under Chambers’s editorship until his death in 1985, and then through 1997 under the editorship of Illinois State University Distinguished Professor Edward R. Hines, these newsletters complemented the annual Grapevine reports on state funding, providing insight into the political and economic context underlying the appropriation of state funds for higher education.

An impressive historical archive emerged in the process. Browsing through the newsletters issued during the first five years of publication (1959–1964), for example, introduces contemporary readers to the legislation, taxation measures, and planning initiatives that paved the way to the contemporary system of mass higher education. Many entries briefly noted new developments, such as Governor Ralph Herseth’s proposed funding increases for higher education in  South Dakota (No. 2, p. 12), a legislative resolution calling for a planning commission to map out the future of higher education in Minnesota (No. 8, p. 56), and Connecticut legislation authorizing “any town to maintain a two-year postsecondary school of college grade, if approved by a majority of” voters (No. 9, p. 60). Chambers kept his ear to the ground through an extensive correspondence and reported what he learned. “The best Christmas gift you could send to Grapevine,” he wrote in the November 1960 newsletter, “would be an informative letter about developments in your state, with a clipping or a document tucked in” (No.  23, p. 151).

Today this sort of work might be called news aggregation—the assemblage of “news from a variety of sources in one place” (Skaggs, 2012, para. 2).  But Chambers was too much of a scholar and a critic, in the best sense of the word, to leave it at that.  He augmented the news with running commentaries on emerging developments, cajoling, lauding, and sometimes scolding the states as they sought a balance between state coordination and institutional autonomy.  He commended the commission hammering out what would be called the California Master Plan for Higher Education, noting that its preference for “voluntary coordination” of institutions and sectors “seems in harmony with a recent trend toward lateral liaison among institutions and systems, as distinguished from topside compulsion, and represents a more civilized approach to statewide coordination” (No. 13, p. 86). He saw the specter of this “topside compulsion” in a 1960 report of Illinois’s State Commission of Higher Education, which recommended the establishment of a state board of higher education that would superimpose planning and budgeting authority over existing institutional boards.  Can the idea of universities as “unique ‘developmental arms of the state’ meriting freedom in their own planning … be foreign to Illinois?” he asked (No. 25, pp. 162, 163). Turning to neighboring Indiana, he lauded a recommendation that the “legislature create an Indiana School for Practical Education” governed by a board of trustees that would study the demand for postsecondary vocational education, “contract with public school systems and colleges … or other agencies to carry out programs appropriate in particular communities,” and “establish [if needed] one or more campuses … of its own” with a focus on citizenship as well as career education. The proposal, he concluded, was “reminiscent of the Morrill Act“ and “attuned to Hoosier educational traditions” (No. 49, p. 335).

During the first five years of publication alone, Chambers penned 33 of these commentaries (listed below in the Appendix).  Many more followed. These analyses remind contemporary readers that policymakers build the airplane as they fly it. The results are often unpredictable. As it turned out, for example, statewide governance in California was never quite as “voluntary” as some initially envisioned.  Developments in Illinois never led to the direct state control of higher education, as Chambers initially feared. And the proposed Indiana School for Practical Education never emerged, though its Morrill-like character lives on in today’s Ivy Tech Community College. Regardless, Chambers soldiered on with an evangelic spirit.  When funding declined following the recession of the early 1970s, he told readers not to despair:  “As long as civilization advances, higher education will be supported, expanded and improved; when we turn back toward barbarism, then higher education will wither away” (Appropriations of State Tax Funds for Operating Expenses of Higher Education: 1976-77, p. 4).

Edward R. Hines continued the Grapevine commentary in a more analytic though no less compelling manner.  He published extensive annual retrospectives on fiscal trends and offered his own perspectives on a number of topics, including multi-campus universities and consolidated systems of higher education (No. 326, p. 2047; No. 394, pp. 3199-3204), state financial incentives for the improvement of higher education (No. 3335, pp. 2108-2112), per-student measures of state fiscal support for higher education (No. 376, pp. 3087-3088), and the relationship between higher education and state government (No. 351, pp. 2214-2216). In addition, Hines published commentaries from numerous scholars and policymakers, including Paul Lingenfelter on the “Uses and Abuses of Interstate Comparisons” (No. 294, pp. 1848-1852); Aimes McGuiness on “The Search for More Effective State Policy Leadership in Higher Education” (No. 327, pp. 2054-2060); David Longanecker and John Wittstruck on the question, “Is There a Positive Side to Cost Containment?” (No. 352, pp. 2220-2222); Daniel Layzell and Jan Lyddon on “Budgeting for Higher Education at the State Level” (No. 369, pp. 3030-3034); and Brenda Albright on “Budgeting for Capital Renewal” (No. 369, pp. 3038-3040). All reckoned with the more somber fiscal picture that followed the higher education growth era in which the Grapevine newsletter began.

The new Grapevine Commentary series takes up the work carried out by Chambers and Hines.  We invite policymakers, scholars, and college or university leaders to weigh in with their perspectives on higher education as it evolves in response to contemporary challenges. These challenges are no less daunting than those that captured the attention of M. M. Chambers when he began the Grapevine newsletter in 1959.  While policymakers today may not be building new higher education systems, they are, like their predecessors, figuring out how to accommodate and finance an unprecedented demand for higher education, now almost universal in character with more than 70% of high school graduates moving on to postsecondary study. At the same time, higher education leaders struggle to increase student completion rates and address enduring inequities in student outcomes by race and income (Bjorklund-Young, 2016; Tate, 2016).  The challenges of completion, equity, and cost containment will be at the forefront of higher education policymaking for some time to come.

Webster’s Third International Unabridged Dictionary defines commentary as “a systematic series of explanations or interpretations of the text of a writing.”  For Grapevine, the “text” is, of course, America’s evolving higher education system, the opportunity it provides for personal growth and societal betterment, and the government policies that make all of this possible.  Running commentary as we move along will facilitate a useful exchange of ideas.  It will also provide future policymakers with a glimpse into history and a foundation for their own work as they adapt higher education to conditions that are unforeseen today.

 

Appendix

Grapevine Commentary, 1959-1964

 

Date

 

Issue

 

State

 

Topic

 

Nov. 1959

 

No. 11, pp. 75-72

 

MA

 

“Massachusetts Needs in Higher Education” (Part I), by. J. P. Mallona

Dec. 1959 No. 12, pp. 81-84 MA “Massachusetts Needs in Higher Education” (Part II), b y J. P. Mallona
Jan., 1960 No. 13, pp. 85-86 CA Master plan for higher education
May, 1960 No. 17, pp. 112-15 CA Master plan for higher education
Oct. 1960 No. 22, pp. 143-44 CA Master plan for higher education
Nov. 1960 No. 23, pp. 153-54 NY Governor Rockefeller’s Committee on Higher Education
Dec. 1960 No. 24, pp. 157-60 NY Governor Rockefeller’s Committee on Higher Education
Jan. 1961 No. 25, pp. 161-63 IL Recommendations of the State Commission on Higher Education
Feb. 1961 No. 26, pp. 172-74 OK Final report of the Joint Study Group on Higher Education
Mar. 1961 No. 27, pp. 179-81 NE Nebraska Study of Higher Education (review of report by L. Glenny)
Mar. 1961 No. 27, pp. 181-82 SD Higher Education in South Dakota  (review of report by S.V. Martorana)
Mar. 1961 No. 27, p. 184 OH Proposed policies on community colleges and university branches
July 1961 No. 31, pp. 210-11 IL Proposed policy for a “unified administration” of state universities
Aug. 1961 No. 32, pp. 219-20 IN Post-high-school Education Study Commission
Sept. 1961 No. 33, pp. 227-28 IL Taxation; establishment of the Illinois Board of Higher Education
Apr. 1962 No. 40, pp. 280-81 MA Special Commission on Budgetary Powers of the Univ. of MA
June 1962 No. 42, pp. 293-94 NJ Report on The Needs of New Jersey in Higher Education.
July 1962 No. 43, pp. 300-01 NJ Legislation authorizing establishment of county colleges
July 1962 No. 43, pp. 301-02 WI Gov. Gaylord Nelsen’s address on higher education opportunity
Aug. 1962 No. 44, pp. 304-05 KY Survey committee report concerning KY State College at Frankfort
Aug. 1962 No. 44, pp. 305-07 MD Report on Public Higher Education in Maryland, 1961-1975
Jan. 1963 No. 47, pp. 323-26 KS Report on Kansas Plans for the Next Generation
Feb. 1963 No. 48, pp. 328-30 CO Voluntary statewide coordination of public colleges and universities
Feb. 1963 No. 48, pp. 330-32 MO Report on Expansion and Coordination of Higher Education in MO
Mar. 1963 No. 49, pp. 334-35 IN Report of the Post-High-School Education Study Commission
Mar. 1963 No. 49, pp. 335-36 MN Report from the Liaison Committee on Higher Education in MN
Nov. 1963 No. 57, p. 383 NV Report on the legal position of the Univ. of NV as a state agency
Jan. 1964 No. 59, pp. 395-96 GA Report on Educating GA’s People: Investment in the Future
Feb. 1964 No. 60, p. 401 UT Report on Coordinating Higher Education in UT
Feb. 1964 No. 60, p. 400 NY Bd. of Regents of the Univ. of NY proposals for education in NYC
July 1964 No.  65, pp. 431-33 DE Legislation concerning the fiscal independence of the Univ. of DE
Sept. 1965 No. 67, pp. 44-46 MA Growth and state governance of public higher education in MA
Sept. 1964 No. 67, pp. 446-47 NJ Legislative committee on capital needs and “related matters” in HE
Oct. 1964 No. 68, pp. 451-54 USb State revenue systems
Nov. 1964 No. 69, pp. 458-60 IL Master Plan for Higher Education in Illinois

aInvited author. All other commentaries listed are by M. M. Chambers.  bSelected states are highlighted in this commentary.

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