Since it’s February 12th, we are celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. One of Lincoln’s long-lasting achievements was the signing of the Morrill Land Act of 1862, which created the land grant university system – and public higher education – in this country. The author of the Act—Congressman Justin Smith Morrill—envisioned public higher education “in every State upon a sure and perpetual foundation, accessible to all, but especially to the sons of toil”.

Unfortunately, the dream of the Morrill Act is being undermined as funding for public higher education has become the main source of discretionary cuts in state budgets. Instead of Morrill (and Lincoln’s) vision of the public good of higher education, we have a vision that includes higher tuition, increasing student debt, less accessibility, and a lower quality of education than generations before.

The Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (CFHE) today is e-publishing three white papers that show that higher education funding, and the now heavy reliance on tuition and its foreseeable consequence of high student debt, in the United States is a soluble problem, not the new normal.

The three papers highlight three different approaches: the implementation of a small financial transaction tax to generate more income for public higher education; establishing a small income surtax to reset state appropriations to past levels that ensured quality and affordability; and the reallocation of government resources already spent on higher education, including loans, financial aid, and regressive tax breaks to directly fund free undergraduate education for all.

The problem of public higher education funding, failing state appropriations, and skyrocketing student debt is one that potentially will turn Lincoln’s notion of education as a public good into a benefit only for the wealthy, again. Lincoln led a revolution, quietly and articulately, for social justice and we would be remiss to allow our generation to be the one to give up on the dream of our great president who was born on this day.

Please take the time to look at the white papers and to help promote these ideas, and those of CFHE, as we try to assure quality public higher education is accessible and affordable for all.