Let's take a few steps backward and review how we got to where we are. A generation ago, public universities were for the working and middle class. Tuitions were extremely low, and it was rare for students to incur large debts. Most of the cost was paid by state legislatures. These institutions, mostly dating back to the land-grant subsidies of the Lincoln era, were one of America's great mechanisms of upward mobility. Then three things happened. State legislatures got caught up in tax cutting fever. They had to compensate for lost revenues, and little by little cut back on public support for public universities. By 2012, most public universities got less than a third of percent of their support from the public. In some states, the figure was less than 15 percent. The burden of tuition was shifted to students. Today, the social class of one's parents determines educational and financial success more than at any time since World War II. But the children of the non-rich, who far outnumber the children of the rich, need higher education once again to be the great meritocracy.
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