12/10/2012 05:11 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Fiscal Cliffs in Higher Education


Two economics professors walk into a bar. One says, "to avoid financial disaster, focus on job creation and staying competitive in the global marketplace." The other says, "raise taxes for corporations." I truly wish there was a joke in there, but the political divide just doesn't have a funny side.

With the nation literally on edge about the so-called fiscal cliff, two economics professors in a business showcase on our campus offered ways to head off a steep financial fall. Their debate mirrored the ongoing prickly battle between Democrats and Republicans in the federal government over how to avoid the fiscal cliff, or the potential consequences of mandated tax increases and spending cuts that are slated to kick in next year.

Those budget slashes and tax hikes in the form of expiring Bush-era tax breaks would amount to an economic hit estimated at billions of dollars and could send the nation into another recession.

So much for the macro view of things. At our small, private college, I see other balancing acts playing out. Students and their families are trying to figure out how to afford a college degree that will help build a successful future. College administrators like me are trying to decide when to spend and when and where to make cuts. With the public's consistent and understandable eye on quality and full technological integration, we walk a fine line to stay within budget while growing our offerings and services in ways that will best serve students.

In my experience, solutions often appear when we look at the small things we can do to help one person at a time. Our college offers a personal finance course as part of the Freshman Year Experience to improve our students' literacy in money matters, and we are hosting a conference to discuss the possible connection between this type of coursework and college persistence.

I am always reminded that compromise is usually not 50/50, and that choosing the common good over personal gain is a tough call. Just as colleges and universities try to work through financial aid challenges with families to make a "good fit" all around for students, I hope our government will follow suit. Otherwise, we'll be atop the cliff no more.