SUCs and the great education divide



There are close to 200 state colleges and universities (SUCs) and colleges and universities established by the rich LGUs. The latter are known by the acronym LGUCs. Rich LGUs are now on a tertiary school—creating binge and expect the number of public tertiary institutions to top 200 in a couple of years.

The University of the Philippines (UP), based on its mandate and almost exclusive reliance on the national budget, is a SUC but not quite. The combined budgets of the 50 SUCs with the lowest budgetary allocations cannot match the yearly budget of the UP System. The UP was established in 1908 and it is the number one university in the country, measured on the number of COEs or centers of excellence.

The Mindanao State University is the other state university with COEs.

If the tertiary educational system were the kingdom of the blind, UP is the one-eyed king. The SUCs are regarded as inferior creations .

No study on education, whether done by the think-tanks, done by scholars with private funding, or done by post-graduate students as part of their papers, have had a kind word on the SUCs , more so the colleges and universities established by the rich LGUs. The take of scholars and academic papers on SUCs and the lesser LGUCs has been along these lines:

• Mr. Marcos , using his legislative powers under martial rule , set the tone for creating SUCs at will , starting with the Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University ( in honor of his father) in the Ilocos Region. Like many of the things Mr. Marcos did, and like many of the institutions he built, the driving force was grandiosity and whim, rather than a realistic fulfillment of a void or need.

• The post martial law Congress followed the example set by Mr. Marcos. From the 8th Congress to the 15th Congress more than 140 SUCs have been established , mostly on the initiative of congressmen out to impress their constituencies. More of showboating than fulfilling a noble mandate of education.

• The proliferation of SUCs (and the LGUCs later), did not improve the cause of higher education . The criticism is that they are mostly diploma mills that turn out graduates that do not really meet the exacting standards of the job market.

• The proliferation of SUCs made it impossible for budget planners to create well-funded state-run tertiary schools with high standards of tertiary education . So many SUCs have to contend with the small pie allocated to them in the national budget.

• The SUCs have been accused of crowding out prestigious private colleges and universities . Once a SUC with cheap tuition fees set into a place, the nearby private university with quality standards hemorrhages on its students and faculty .

• The SUCs don’t have any innovative offerings . They just offer courses in vogue , which would eventually lead to oversupply of graduates in those particularly crowded fields.

Many of these accusations are valid. But there is a question that needs to be answered. If the SUCs are not in place, where will the poor high school graduates pursue their college education? While getting admitted to UP is a dream, this is not attainable for 99 per cent of students from the backward rural areas, no matter how bright, without the adequate training and grounding on science and math.

The private tertiary institutions , even those with high acceptance rates, are also beyond the reach of the poor who want to go to college.

There is only one option— the SUCs, or the much-maligned SUCs.

Established by showboating politicians , established for all the wrong reasons , the SUCs are now the reason the many sectors of the service economy get their “ demographic sweet spot.” The academic papers will probably not recognize this but it is true. The jobs may not be well-paying but for a young man or woman from the barrios, getting a job is the equivalent of economic emancipation.

In the STEM fields, some of the ably-administered SUCs have passing rates on the engineering board exams that are higher than the so-called reputable private tertiary institutions .

The sheer number of applicants , this is not noted in the academic studies, have made many SUCs selective , with a rejection rate of 30 per cent of more. Those rejected by the SUCs enroll at the LGUCs.

The SUCs, warts and all, serve a distinct function in a society with a vast rich-poor divide and marked by extreme economic inequality. This is, without question, its most fulfilling mandate.

The poor will have nowhere to go without the offerings of the SUCs and the LGUCs.

The functional niche of the SUCs in our unequal society was rubbed in by a recent advertisement of an elite, international school based in Metro Manila. It had a photo gallery of its high school graduates, plus the universities and colleges that offered the graduates slots in their programs .

Most of the schools are based in the US and the UK, if not Singapore or Hong Kong . UP, Ateneo and La Salle were rarely listed ( as afterthoughts perhaps ?).

In these foreign schools, some Ivy League and some second-tier schools, the tuition fee, plush room and board, will top $60,000 a year.

At the SUCs, tuition is more or less P10,000 a semester. You will sit in a class of 50 to 60 students and have to put up with the atrocious phonetics of some professors . But it will be the sure pathway to a diploma and a job , which for the poor is the equivalent of breaking loose from a bondage.


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