The Minnesota Daily has a good article today about Pawlenty's plan to shift funding away from higher education facilities towards students. The University of Minnesota would be damaged by such a plan, and U officials make sure everybody knows it in this article.
Such a plan would "drive reform and change the higher education marketplace," according to the governor. I do not like free market fetishism, and this is a great example of it. The free market works wonders in a lot of situations. It works great in determining what fast food restaurants I will go to, for example, or where I will buy clothes, or anything of that nature. But a free market is not a panacea, and it breaks down when there are a lot of intangibles and the investment timeframes are measured in years and decades instead of days or minutes.
The University of Minnesota is striving to be one of the best research universities in the world. This brings a lot of ancillary benefits, but not all of them are easily and immediately quantifiable in terms of money. Many students may not care as much about that fact either. What they may want, many studies say, are great gyms, nice student housing, a nightlife, etc. These are all well and good, but if universities are forced by the marketplace to put resources into these things, it will have to take away from those things that have less immediate impact, like pure research. In the long run, we will get mediocre institutes of higher education that pander to the physical and psychological needs of students, not necessarily the intellectual needs of our society.
Higher education is not a Big Mac. The goal is not to give the largest amount of short-term pleasure in the quickest manner possible. Higher education exists to educate, and yes, even undertake some research that may not be immediately cost-effective. Funding higher education through American Idol-type popularity contests is not a good idea.