In the United States, almost all colleges are either state schools--that is, sponsored by a state government with the help of federal funding--or private schools. Both state schools and private schools have geography problems, in that their masters (state governments and boards of trustees) and their locations (actual physical communities) do not align.
This is an obvious point. But when coupled with another obvious point--that cities, not states or nations--are becoming the most important political geographic units on the planet, that obvious point needs a response.
The response is this: cities need higher education strategies. Some cities (New York, and for a while longer San Francisco) sponsor universities. But few cities have a bona fide plan that says: "Our city needs educated people in these fields to create a good society, and support civic life, and build our economy. Therefore, we will be active in higher education in these ways..." One that has moved in that direction is Mesa, Arizona, which is inviting private non-profit colleges to set up shop within its boundaries.
Benjamin Barber will be arguing in his new book that mayors should be much more important political figures than they are. To that let me add this simple point: one of the most important thing a mayor of any city or town can do if s/he wants to live out the significance of the office, is develop a strategy for higher education.
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