Winning governors pledge spending on US colleges

November 27, 1998

Higher education was an unexpected winner in recent American elections. Voters approved spending hundreds of millions of dollars on university and college construction, renovations, faculty and programmes, much of it to keep pace with anticipated increases in enrolment.

Pro-education candidates for governor were elected in several states. Bob Livingston of Louisiana, who is succeeding Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House of Representatives, supports spending money on science and biomedical research and student loans and grants.

The one decision decried by many university leaders came in the northwestern state of Washington, where voters agreed by a large margin to block public universities from using students' race as a factor in admission. A lawsuit challenging the move was expected, but the University of Washington immediately ended racial preferences and predicted that the number of black and Hispanic freshmen would fall by 15 per cent next year as a result.

Gubernatorial candidates who supported spending more money on colleges and scholarships won surprise victories in Alabama, Iowa, and South Carolina, and in the biggest state, California, which enrols 10 per cent of all American university students.

New governors in Alabama and South Carolina promised state lotteries to pay for college scholarships and public school improvements. In Alabama, the incumbent governor who sought cuts in public college budgets was defeated. Iowa voters chose a governor who proposes freezing community college tuition.

California governor-elect Gray Davis, is a former trustee of California State University and a regent at the University of California. He advocates forcing high schools to pay for the cost of remedial education courses their graduates must take at college.

Many of the new governors were Democrats, and Democrats also made gains in Congress, forcing Mr Gingrich to resign to make way for Mr Livingston.

California voters also agreed to spend more than $9 billion to cut class sizes at all levels by hiring more teachers and professors and building more school and university buildings.

Alabama and Maine residents approved spending millions to equip and improve facilities for agriculture, aquaculture and forestry at public universities and Arizona voters passed a proposition allowing the state to sell or lease state land and invest the money to support public colleges.

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